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Tuesday, June 4, 2019

How Commies allowed 'freedom of expression' 30 years ago !


Freedom of speech is a principle that supports the freedom of an individual or a community to articulate their opinions and ideas without fear of retaliation, censorship, or legal sanction.  Facebook on June 4 said an EU court opinion calling for it to seek out content deemed illegal by a local court on its platform undermined free speech across borders. An advisor to the EU's top court said on June 4 that Facebook could be ordered to seek out all content on its platform identical to that found to be illegal by a court injunction. "This case raises important questions about freedom of expression online," the company said in an emailed comment.

Back home, often some fringe elements and mainly the Left [Communists] often decry that Govt is stifling freedom of expression and clamping down on the voices !!  Left in India received its biggest setback in electoral history at 2019 Lok Sabha elections. The tally of Communist Party of India (Marxist) at Parliament reduced from an already paltry five seats to mere three  this year when the results were announced. Kerala, the Left’s last bastion in the country, delivered chilling news to the party  electing just one CPM member out of 20 Lok Sabha seats.  On its erstwhile turf in West Bengal, where it failed to win even one seat, its vote share reduced to a paltry 7 per cent from 23 per cent in 2014.  In West Bengal, it was a debacle wherein all but one Left-wing party candidates lost their security deposits. This was also the first time since 1952 that the Left Front did not end up with double digits in the general election. Till now, while it had put up its most dismal show in 2014, winning only 12 seats - 12 less than what it had won in 2009 - its highest ever tally of 59 seats had come in 2004.  .. .. .. here is something on Communist’s distinction on ‘freedom of expression’ !

As the sun rose on the morning of June 4, 1989, (this day 30 years ago !) the Chinese people woke to a country which had changed overnight.   The Tian'anmen or the Gate of Heavenly Peace, is a monumental gate in the centre of Beijing, widely used as a national symbol of China. First built during the Ming dynasty in 1420, Tiananmen was the entrance to the Imperial City, within which the Forbidden City was located.

In April 1989, the popular reformist leader Hu Yaobang died. During the 1980s he had been a high-ranking Communist party official who had promoted economic and political reform, but was ousted by his conservative opponents. Two days after his death, on 17 April, several hundred students marched to Tiananmen Square and laid a wreath at the Monument to the People’s Revolutionary Heroes. They called for greater freedom of speech, economic freedoms and curbs on corruption – demands that touched a raw nerve with the conservatives in the Communist Party. The top leadership was divided; while some saw students as patriotic, others saw them as a threat to the regime. The demonstrations spread to hundreds of cities across China.
For seven weeks it had seemed like China was on the brink of a massive social change, but in just one night the dreams of hundreds of thousands of protesting students and workers were brutally crushed. For about a decade, China's economy had been steadily opening up and allowing small amounts of free enterprise in the Communist country, after years of strict state control under chairman Mao Zedong. Directing the change was then-Paramount Leader Deng Xiaoping, who wanted to see China grow prosperous by embracing some pro-market liberalization.

In a prelude without expecting that such a cruelty would be thrust upon them, hundreds of thousands of Chinese gathered on June 2, 1989 in Tiananmen Square demanding democracy despite martial law in Beijing. But when large-scale protests in Beijing called for greater social freedoms, such as freedom of speech and even democracy, Deng would prove far less enthusiastic. Chinese students  demanded  freedom, democracy and enlightenment on the Martyrs Monument in Beijing's Tiananmen Square, festooned with a giant portrait of Hu Yaobang. The protesters occupied Tiananmen Square, the massive public space in the center of Beijing which faces onto the Forbidden City, former home of the Chinese emperors, and the Great Hall of the People.

A rally on May 19 in the square drew an estimated 1.2 million people, leading then-Communist Party leader Zhao Ziyang to meet with them to plead for an end to the protests. On May 30, in the center of the square, protesters built a 10-meter high statue called the Goddess of Democracy, to boost morale among the huge crowd. More than seven thousand students from local colleges and universities march to Tiananmen Square, Beijing, May 4, to demonstrate for government reform.

In the end, the government moved swiftly. After a tense two weeks, on the night of June 3, convoys of armed troops entered Beijing with an aim to clear the square by whatever means necessary. Blocked by civilians in the streets who were attempting to protect the students, the troops opened fire. Students, workers and other ordinary citizens fought back, setting fire to some military vehicles, but they were overwhelmed. Witnesses told horrific stories of tanks driving over unarmed protesters and soldiers shooting indiscriminately into crowds. No official death toll was ever released by the Chinese government, but human rights groups estimate it was thousands. Many of the protest leaders were imprisoned, some of whom wouldn't be released for more than a decade, and the government has worked hard to remove all mention of the massacre from Chinese history and media, seeing it as a threat to the legitimacy of its continued one-party rule.

On the 30th anniversary in 2019 today, no public memorials or events marking the day are expected in mainland China.  Not many now remember or write about those ghastly hours – 30 years ago, when  Chinese troops launched a two-pronged attack from the east and west of Beijing with orders to put down the protests. Armoured cars and tanks  smashed through the citizens’ barricades to the east. Gunfire was heard throughout the night. The actual number of deaths from the crackdown remains unknown, but according to a secret diplomatic cable from then British ambassador to Beijing, Sir Alan Donald, dated 5 June, 1989 and released in December 2017, the Chinese army killed at least 10,000 people.

Thirty years on, the Chinese authorities continue to view the Tiananmen protests as one of the most sensitive and taboo subjects. “June 4”, as the movement is commonly known as in China, remains largely scrubbed from official history and is censored from school text books and online. The authorities punish those who try to commemorate the event, placing scores of intellectuals, writers or activists under house arrest ahead of the anniversary of the crackdown. Relatives of the victims who died during the massacre are barred from openly mourning their loved ones. The Chinese government has since justified its military crackdown on the movement as necessary for political stability, economic prosperity and its eventual rise.  So much so for the red version of ‘freedom of expression !’

With regards – S. Sampathkumar
4th June 2019.

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