China censors videos, social media posts of HK protests

PROTEST: Protesters hold placards and shout slogans as they occupy a street demanding Hong Kong leader to step down after a rally against the now-suspended extradition bill outside of the Chief Executive Office on June 17 in Hong Kong, China. Anthony Kwan/Getty Images/TNS

BEIJING – As Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam offered her latest apology Tuesday over her bungled attempt to push through a controversial extradition law, activists in mainland China busily posted video of the statement – again and again and again.

Each time, though, Chinese censors swiftly took the images down.

Censorship has long been a fact of life in China, where comments conveying dissent, activism or criticism of authorities are removed posthaste from the internet and where access to many Western media and social media sites is banned, in what is sometimes referred to as the "Great Firewall of China."

In recent days, censors have also been working assiduously to erase content of the Hong Kong rallies, or anything that evokes their spirit. Even a tune that protesters sang during the marches, "Can You Hear the People Sing," from the musical "Les Miserables," has been excised from QQ, one of China's most popular musical streaming sites.

China Digital Times, a California-based website that monitors Chinese censorship, reported that Chinese authorities had ordered media to delete any video related to the Hong Kong protests. The term "Let's Go Hong Kong" was also censored.

One mainland activist told the Los Angeles Times he stayed awake all night after the two largest mass protest marches, trying to stay ahead of censors by sharing video and photos in mainland social media chat groups – only to see them disappear almost immediately.

Instead, Chinese authorities have portrayed the protests as violent events incited by foreign elements eager to undermine Hong Kong and destroy China's "one country, two systems" policy, which was meant to ensure Hong Kong's position as a global financial center by guaranteeing the right to freedom of speech and the right to protest.

Hong Kong, a former British colony, was handed back to Chinese control in 1997 after a prolonged transfer period. The 1984 handover agreement signed between then-British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and then-Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping has resulted in a deeply held tradition of peaceful protest in Hong Kong.

But the mass rallies that choked Hong Kong's streets drew parallels with China's most sensitive anniversary – the massive Tiananmen Square pro-democracy protests – when memories of the 30th anniversary of the bloody crackdown on June 4, 1989, remained fresh.

Lam's decision to suspend enactment of the extradition bill Saturday was reminiscent of a protest victory in 2003, when the Hong Kong government was forced to withdraw a law on national security that had ignited similar opposition.

Rather than focus on the two marches that drew more than 1 million demonstrators, China's Communist Party-owned China Daily focused on a few dozen protesters outside the U.S. Consulate.

"HK parents march against US meddling," the headline read.

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