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Chinese censors act to silence Tiananmen anniversary talk

Authorities block internet access to terms such as 'six four' and 'never forget' on 23rd anniversary of bloody 4 June crackdown

China's censors have blocked internet access to the terms "six four", "23", "candle" and "never forget", broadening already extensive efforts to silence talk about the 23rd anniversary of the bloody 4 June crackdown on pro-democracy protesters.

For China's ruling Communist party, the 1989 demonstrations that clogged Tiananmen Square in Beijing and spread to other cities remains taboo, all the more so this year as the government prepares for a tricky leadership handover. Searches for the terms related to the anniversary, such as "six four" for 4 June, have been blocked on Sina Weibo, the most popular of China's Twitter-like microblogging platforms. Users encountered a message that said the search results could not be displayed "due to relevant laws, regulations and policies".

"It's that day again and once more numerous posts are being deleted," a Sina microblogger wrote. Sina was not available for comment.

The anniversary of the date on which troops shot their way into central Beijing in 1989 has never been publicly marked in mainland China.

The government has never released a death toll of the crackdown, but estimates from human rights groups and witnesses range from several hundred to thousands.

The US state department deputy spokesman, Mark Toner, urged the Chinese government on Sunday "to provide a full public accounting of those killed, detained or missing".

Microbloggers decried the censorship, complaining that their posts had been "harmonised" – a euphemism for censorship – within minutes. Censors also prevented microbloggers from changing their display photos in an apparent attempt to prevent them from posting any picture commemorating the anniversary.

Some people did manage to beat the censors, and a few pictures of the 1989 protests did find their way on to Weibo. "There can be no social stability if people cannot speak out and must live in terror of punishment," a microblogger commented on one of the photographs.

Yao Jianfu, author of a new book of interviews with Chen Xitong, the Beijing mayor at the time of the crackdown, told Reuters that Chen had said "this was a tragedy that should have been averted but wasn't".

"I never foresaw there would be shooting, because Mao Zedong said that ordinary people should not be shot at and suppressing student protests comes to no good," said Yao.

The government has restricted the movements of dozens of dissidents, former prisoners and petitioners during the anniversary period and warned them against speaking to journalists or organising activities, said Songlian Wang of Chinese Human Rights Defenders.

A coalition of lawyers and rights activists began a one-day fast in their homes on Monday to commemorate the anniversary, said a Shandong-based lawyer, Liu Weiguo.

Tens of thousands of people are expected to attend a candlelight vigil in Hong Kong, said organisers, who have erected a replica of the Goddess of Democracy that was built in Tiananmen Square in 1989.