Several key services provided by Google have been partly inaccessible in China since Sunday, as the twenty-fifth anniversary of the crackdown on democracy protests in 1989 approaches. The June 4 crackdown is widely commemorated online every year.
“The block is indiscriminate as all Google services [from] all countries, encrypted or not, are now blocked in China,” according to a blog post on GreatFire.org, a Chinese internet censorship watchdog that first noted the Google outages over the weekend.
A Google spokesperson in Hong Kong declined to comment. While Gmail, Picasa and other Google services were accessible to some users based in the mainland, many complained about problems of access on their microblogs.
Comments on social media about the disruption reflected widespread speculation that it could be related to the crackdown anniversary on Tuesday.
“I support this wise decision by the Communist Party,” one Weibo user commented sarcastically in a post that has since been deleted. “It’s once again May 35,” wrote another, referring to an alternative reference sometimes used online to avoid censorship.
Servers could not access Google.com, Google.com.hk, Gmail.com in Beijing, Shenzhen, Inner Mongolia, Heilongjiang and Yunnan provinces as of Monday morning, according to GreatFire.org’s monitoring service.
It was not clear whether the blockage was a temporary measure ahead of the sensitive anniversary or a permanent measure, the watchdog wrote in its blog post. “It is the strictest censorship ever deployed,” it read. The watchdog last documented such disruption in 2012, when outages lasted for 12 hours.
Charlie Smith, GreatFire.org's founder, said the disruption was more sophisticated than the one two years ago. "It's devious," he said. "In 2012, access was completely blocked. This time, only about 90 per per cent of access to Google is blocked. Users think it is a problem with Google or their computer, when instead it's censorship."
Sina Weibo, one of the largest social media platforms, began censoring “Tiananmen” and “25 years ago” around two weeks ago, according to Fei Chang Dao, a blog that monitors social media censorship in China.
The blog also documented efforts by censors on various social media platforms to curb the use of Tiananmen homonyms like “willow silk”, which in Chinese sounds like "6-4", or "June 4th", or word plays like “May 35” that are usually used to circumvent censorship.
UPDATE: An uncensored version of Google.com can be accessed in mainland China using this link, made available by GreatFire.org.