Wikipedia blocked in China ahead of Tiananmen Square anniversary
- Owner of online encyclopaedia says it noticed in April that site was no longer accessible but has not been given any notice of a ban
- Beijing often ramps up censorship before major political events or sensitive anniversaries
Authorities in mainland China have blocked Wikipedia, its owner said on Wednesday.
“In April, the Wikimedia Foundation determined that Wikipedia was no longer accessible in China,” Samantha Lien, spokeswoman for the foundation, which owns the online encyclopaedia, said.
“After closely analysing our internal traffic reports, we can confirm Wikipedia is blocked across all language versions,” Lien said.
Suspicion of a total block on Wikipedia surfaced in late April when some Chinese internet users took to social media to complain the site was no longer accessible.
Tests run by GreatFire.org, an organisation that tracks internet censorship in China, showed the site had not been accessible from within mainland China since April 23.
The latest move to block all versions of the website could be linked to online translation tools, which make it easy for Chinese users to read anything on Wikipedia, said Charlie Smith, the pseudonym of one of the co-founders of Greatfire.org.
“At the end of the day, the content that really matters is Chinese-language content.”
Images could also be considered taboo, Smith said.
“A picture is worth a thousand words, and there is no dearth of Tiananmen-related imagery on the Wikipedia website,” he said.
“Blocking access to all language versions of Wikipedia for internet users in China is just symbolic. It symbolises the fear that the Chinese authorities have of the truth.”
The Cyberspace Administration of China, which oversees internet censorship, did not immediately respond to a faxed request for comment.
Wikipedia’s Chinese-language site has been blocked by China’s “Great Firewall” since 2015, which prevents internet users from accessing certain foreign websites. But versions in other languages have largely remained accessible, albeit with occasional interruptions.
Lien said the Wikimedia Foundation had not received any notice that would explain why the block had been imposed.
“When one country, region or culture cannot join the global conversation on Wikipedia, the entire world is poorer,” she said.
Internet authorities in China often ramp up censorship before major political events or sensitive anniversaries.
Next month marks 30 years since the army used force to suppress the pro-democracy protests centred on Tiananmen Square.
This month saw the 100th anniversary of the May 4 movement, which began as student protests against imperialism but quickly grew into widespread protests against the government. Authorities have long played the element of political liberalism in that movement.
In October, Beijing will celebrate the 70th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic of China.
Additional reporting by Agence France-Presse