By Yan Zhao
The organiser of Hong Kong’s annual vigil for the victims of China’s deadly Tiananmen crackdown told AFP Thursday his Zoom account was suspended after trying to host an online discussion about Beijing’s global influence.
His statement came after Zoom said it temporarily closed a US account used by activists who tried to connect more than 250 people to remember Beijing’s crushing of the pro-democracy movement June 4, 1989.
That revelation sparked concerns that the American video conference app, which has soared in popularity during the coronavirus pandemic, is bowing to authoritarian China.
Lee Cheuk-yan, chairman of the Hong Kong Alliance, told AFP he has been locked out of Zoom since May 22 when his group tried to host an online discussion on China’s influence around the world.
“The account was suspended before the talk started. I’ve asked Zoom many times whether this is political censorship but it has never replied to me,” Lee said.
The group had held two previous talks on Zoom without an issue, according to Lee. Once locked out they broadcast on Facebook and YouTube, which are allowed in Hong Kong but banned in China, he said.
The alliance is based in Hong Kong, a semi-autonomous city that has free speech liberties unseen on the mainland but has been upended by a year of pro-democracy protests that have infuriated China.
The May 22 talk contained no speakers from mainland China, according to Lee.
But Zoom can be used on the mainland and Lee said the Hong Kong Alliance had always sought ways to reach people beyond China’s sophisticated “Great Firewall”.
Asked about Lee’s statement that his account had been locked and his requests for information, Zoom sent AFP a statement that matched the temporary blocking of the account used by US activists.
“Just like any global company, we must comply with applicable laws in the jurisdictions where we operate,” a Zoom spokesperson said in the statement, without referring to Lee’s account specifically.
“When a meeting is held across different countries, the participants within those countries are required to comply with their respective local laws.
“We aim to limit the actions we take to those necessary to comply with local law and continuously review and improve our process on these matters.”
AFP asked Zoom in a follow-up email for clarity on why Lee’s account remained suspended.
The closed American account belonged to US-based Humanitarian China, which said its Zoom account was shut down one week after hosting a discussion involving participants from China.
Zhou Fengsuo, a co-founder of Humanitarian China who was number one on Beijing’s most-wanted list after the Tiananmen crackdown, told AFP that the Zoom account was reactivated on Wednesday.