The Chinese government has blocked access to Google search, Gmail, Google Calendar and other services in an apparent effort to censor discussion prior to the 25th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square protests that left thousands dead in 1989.
Chinese Internet users have already been without Google services for four days ahead of the June 3-4 Tiananmen Square Massacre, which resulted in the deaths of several thousand pro-democracy protestors. An official death toll has never been released.
The New York Times reports the blockage cuts off 90 percent of users in China — a problem the government is blaming on Google.
“We’ve checked extensively, and there are no technical problems on our side,” a Google spokesperson told Mashable. According to the website, Google has been experiencing a traffic decline from China since May 30.
Social media sites Facebook and Twitter, along with Google-owned YouTube, are already permanently banned in China, and now international versions of the search engine have been added to the list ahead of the anniversary. The Chinese government regularly censors the search results of its users when the website is available.
“We’ve certainly seen all these pathologies on display—from censorship to detaining known government critics every year—but they have been significantly worse this year,” Human Rights Watch China Director Sophie Richardson said.
Online comments and references to the censorship have also been routinely erased, and the government has ramped up detainments and arrests of dissidents, scholars and legal defenders attempting to discuss or express the historic protests. Even code words used to secretly discuss the anniversary have been removed and blocked.
“They’re locking up everyone that they can and blocking everything they can,” Danwei Director Jeremy Goldkorn said. Danwei is a website that tracks Chinese news media and Internet.
“In general what we’ve seen is the [Chinese President] Xi Jinping government has taken a harsher stance toward civil society and human rights than some of his predecessors,” Amnesty International China researcher William Nee said. ”Perhaps he’s using this as a little bit of a way to redraw the red lines on what is acceptable and what is not.”
Nee told Mashable he hopes censorship levels will return to normal after the anniversary, but was unsure.
“I think it will be interesting, in the coming weeks, to see how much this will become the new standard.”
“This is by far the biggest attack on Google that’s ever taken place in China,” an anonymous GreatFire.org co-founder told the Times. “Probably the only thing comparable is when the Chinese government first started blocking websites in the 1990s.”
GreatFire.org, an independent censorship-monitoring website, has built a site to mimic Google’s abilities in the cloud, forcing China to shut down national companies’ web presences in order to block the site.