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China Disrupts Google Activities Ahead of Controversial Anniversary

Latest restrictions affect gmail, calendar products as well as previously blocked search and YouTube.

HONG KONG – Multiple services operated by Google are being disrupted in China ahead of this week’s 25th anniversary of the bloody 1989 incident in Tiananmen Square.

Access from within mainland China appears to be blocked not only to Google’s search engine, but also to Gmail, calendar, translation and the Picasa photo services, according to multiple reports. The blockage also appears to affect access from China to Google’s international sites operated outside the country.

The new disruptions began on Friday (May 31) according to GreatFire.org, an independent anti-censorship organization, which said that they are the most extensive it has ever monitored.

“It is not clear that the block is a temporary measure around the anniversary or a permanent block. But because the block has lasted for four days, it’s more likely that Google will be severely disrupted and barely usable from now on,” it said.

Google’s own transparency report shows that traffic from China was down by some 50% over the weekend.

China appears to be especially vigorous this year in stifling commentary about the anniversary. Many Tiananmen synonyms and code words used by China’s Internet population have also been blocked. Dissidents have also been taken into custody. One, the Chinese-born, Australian artist Guo Jian was taken from his home in outer Beijing this weekend. He reportedly told friends that police told him he would be released in 15 days.
The Google-owned video-sharing website YouTube has been blocked in China for more than two years.

Google has often been the subject of restrictions in the country since 2010 when the company shut down its Chinese search engine and accused the Chinese government of censorship. Google continues to operate unrestricted Chinese-language search from Hong Kong, which, although Chinese territory, has separate jurisdiction, greater freedom of the press and greater right of assembly.

Hong Kongers have annually held a candle-light vigil in the city’s Victoria Park to mark the Chinese authorities’ crackdown on a student-led pro-democracy movement on June 4, 1989. Mainland authorities characterize the incidents as a counter-revolutionary uprising and still have not given an official figure for the death toll, thought to exceed 1,000.

The planned demonstration on Wednesday comes at a time when Hong Kong is bitterly divided over what form of democracy should be introduced for the Special Administrative Area’s chief executive elections in 2017 and legislative elections in following years. It also comes at a time when there are growing anti-Chinese incidents in the territory. These are largely sparked by local issues such as a flood of mainland tourists, mainland women coming to Hong Kong to give birth, and the inflationary impact of mainlanders buying property in Hong Kong.

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