Raising speech fears, Zoom briefly shuts account over Tiananmen

Zhou Fengsuo -- a US based Tiananmen survivor -- said his Zoom accounts was among those closed

Zoom said Wednesday that it had temporarily shut down a US account of activists who met to mark the anniversary of China's crackdown in Tiananmen Square, raising alarm over free speech on the fast-growing video-meeting service.

US-based rights campaigners turned to Zoom, which has become a way of life for many people during the coronavirus lockdown, to connect more than 250 people to remember Beijing's crushing of the pro-democracy uprising on June 4, 1989.

The group Humanitarian China said it had brought in numerous participants from inside China, which has tried to erase memories of the bloodshed -- and that its paid Zoom account was shut down without explanation one week later.

The shutdown was first reported by news site Axios.

Zhou Fengsuo, a co-founder of the group who was number one on Beijing's most-wanted list after the Tiananmen crackdown, told AFP that the Zoom account was reactivated on Wednesday.

Zoom acknowledged that it had shut down and restored the account.

"Just like any global company, we must comply with applicable laws in the jurisdictions where we operate," a Zoom spokesperson said.

"When a meeting is held across different countries, the participants within those countries are required to comply with their respective local laws.

"We aim to limit the actions we take to those necessary to comply with local law and continuously review and improve our process on these matters."

The activists voiced outrage, charging that the company may have been under direct pressure from China's communist leaders.

"If so, Zoom is complicit in erasing the memories of the Tiananmen Massacre in collaboration with an authoritarian government," Humanitarian China said in a statement.

It called Zoom an "essential" resource in reaching audiences inside China, which rigorously enforces censorship.

Beijing has developed a sophisticated "Great Firewall" that aims to keep out news that is damaging to the leadership.

Authorities go to extraordinary lengths each year to ban commemorations of the Tiananmen crackdown, in which the military killed hundreds of unarmed protesters -- by some estimates, more than 1,000 -- who had packed the capital to seek reform.

With its alluring market, China has long been problematic for US tech giants that generally boast of allowing unfettered free speech at home.

Zoom reported Tuesday that its earnings had soared in the quarter ending April 30 as both companies and friends, cooped up inside due to COVID-19 lockdowns, used the platform to meet virtually.

Zhou Fengsuo, seen here in New York in 2019, was a leader of the Tiananmen Square student uprising