With the commemoration of the 30th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre in full swing, China is keeping families of the victims under surveillance. While some families have been put under house arrest, a few of them have been relocated to “vacation” spots and are under constant watch by the police. Almost 3,000 people are believed to have been killed in the massacre. A secret British diplomatic cable released in 2017 puts the death toll at 10,000.
“I asked them [police] what date they would be leaving on, and they said they didn’t know, but that it would probably be after June 4… They said they wouldn’t have to follow me everywhere if I would promise them not to talk to journalists… I said that’s not likely, because I definitely want to give media interviews… So now there’s someone sitting outside the lift, and another one sitting by the door to the stairs to make sure no journalists can come and visit me,” a mother of a victim said to Radio Free Asia.
Beijing is fearful that the families might talk to journalists and the news might spread through social media, triggering resentment against the government for what happened during the 1989 Tiananmen protests. On June 4, family members are only allowed to visit the cemetery of their loved ones in police vehicles. Mourners typically place chrysanthemums on the graves.
In addition to families, several human rights activists are also under surveillance by the state. Gao Yu, a prominent journalist who has been outspoken about the massacre, has been under house arrest since January and is expected to be free only after June 4. Phones of activists are tapped.
“The Chinese government is very nervous because the internal and external situations are both not beneficial to the Chinese Communist Party, its prestige, and its leaders… They are under a lot of pressure. Everyone feels the pressure, which spreads from the government to society,” Pu Zhiqiang, a human rights lawyer who was detained for trying to mark the 25th anniversary of the Tiananmen protests, said to The Guardian.
The official Chinese version about the event states that the protests were funded by foreign powers to destabilize China and that no large-scale murder ever took place. Tiananmen Mothers, a group of 177 families of the victims of the June 4 massacre, has been very active in its demand that the government reveal the truth of the incident. However, Beijing has not responded to their requests for years and keeps the members under constant watch, restricting their movements during every anniversary.
The Tiananmen massacre is a taboo subject in China. With advancements in technology, the state now uses Artificial Intelligence to block discussions about the incident. If a social media post contains any textual content or image related to the protests or massacre, it gets automatically removed.
“When I first began this kind of work four years ago, there was opportunity to remove the images of Tiananmen, but now the artificial intelligence is very accurate,” an anonymous person who has experience working with Chinese censors, said to ABC News.
Social media accounts of NGOs, environment activists, and LGBT groups are strictly monitored since they tend to be more outspoken about the tragic event. The government has also banned Wikipedia access. If anyone spreads information about the Tiananmen massacre over the Internet, they will be subject to heavy penalties and even jail time.