Zoom has admitted that at the expense of the Chinese government it suspended the accounts of human rights activists and proposed that it will block more meetings that Beijing says are illegal.
The video conference site has been blamed for disabling or shutting down the accounts of three activists who organized online events linked to the anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre or addressing the Hong Kong crisis. Zoom had offered no explanation.
“The Chinese government informed us that this activity is illegal in China and demanded that Zoom terminate the meetings and host accounts,” Zoom said. “We did not provide any user information or meeting content to the Chinese government. We do not have a backdoor that allows someone to enter a meeting without being visible.”
The declaration poses concerns about the bowing of Zoom to Chinese pressure. This is not blocked in China, unlike many European social networking sites. The organization has not clarified under what legislation the meetings – held outside mainland China – is considered illegal.
Zoom said it had no capacity to ban participants from different countries and so it ended three of the meetings and removed or terminated the host accounts involved. Zoom said that one meeting did not take action as metadata showed that there were no participants from mainland China, but two others had a “significant number of participants from China.”
Lee Cheuk-Yan, a Hong Kong pro-democracy campaigner who conducts the annual Tiananmen vigil, saw his account closed even before hosting an event on a controversial extradition law that provoked mass anti-government protests in the city.
“They have restored my account but Zoom continues to kneel before the Communist party,” he said.
“My purpose in opening Zoom is to reach out to mainland Chinese, breaking the censorship of the Chinese Communist party. With this policy it defeats my original purpose,” he added.
Zoom has been criticized by US lawmakers and by human rights organizations. US representatives Greg Walden and Cathy McMorris Rodgers sent out a letter to Eric Yuan, CEO of Zoom, asking him to clarify the practices of his organization.
US senator Josh Hawley has asked Yuan to “select one side: American ideals and free speech, or short-term global profits and censorship”
Chinese human rights researcher Yaqiu Wang said: “Laws in China are often abusive and don’t comply with international human rights standards. Yet tech companies have a responsibility to respect human rights.”
“Tech companies should stand together to resist Beijing’s censorship demands and uphold the right to freedom of expression. Otherwise, the grovelling will never end,” she said.