China scrambles to block evidence of Hong Kong protests

The Chinese government has intensified censorship on the mainland amid ongoing pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong’s financial district.

According to the New York Times, the photo sharing site Instagram, which has been used to share images of the protests and police response, as well as search terms such as “tear gas” have been blocked by Beijing. Websites have also been ordered to remove any reference to the demonstrations.

This censorship activity reflects earlier decisions to block YouTube, Facebook and Twitter during times of political unrest – all three of which still have their bans upheld. Chinese-based social media sites such as Weixin (WeChat) have not been shut down but are experiencing “erratic” censorship, whilst “Occupy Central,” the name given to the Hong Kong pro-democracy movement, was blocked on Sina Weibo, China’s equivalent of Twitter.

Some commentators have suggested that these attempts at censorship may actually have backfired on the government, bringing the protests to the attention to many Instagram users who were otherwise oblivious to the protests, unreported on the mainland. Many Chinese internet users have developed software that can bypass the “Great Firewall,” meaning that new blocks could simply inspire curiosity, encouraging citizens to research further into the blocked terms.

At least 41 protesters were injured during the weekend’s demonstrations in Hong Kong, in which 78 people were also arrested. Despite attempts by riot police to subdue the mostly peaceful protesters with pepper spray, tear gas and baton charges, more and more people have today joined the rally, which has now spread across three city locations.

Within Chinese-owned territory, Occupy Central with Love and Peace is the largest political demonstration of its type since pro-democracy protesters were massacred in Tiananmen Square in 1989.  Beijing has ominously described the protests as an “illegal movement” and has insisted that the disputed elections, which protesters say are undemocratic, will go ahead as planned.