Video conferencing software company Zoom has admitted that it has blocked US and Hong Kong users' accounts at the request of the Chinese government, and plans to add the ability to block or remove meeting attendees from mainland China.
Zoom last week suspended reports from three human rights defenders, Lee Cheuk-yan, Wang Dan and Zhou Fengsuo, who used the service to hold online discussions about the anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre. Two of these accounts were in Hong Kong and one in the United States.
The company claims to have blocked the accounts at the request of the Chinese government, although it is not clear what laws the hosts who did not reside in mainland China have violated.
In a blog post, Zoom said it suspended users after "
Zoom has now restored the accounts of the three users, but denied them the opportunity to speak to other democracy-friendly organizers at a crucial time. Zoom said it took this action because it was unable to block meeting participants by country. When some users from mainland China attended the meeting, they had to end.
Zoom said it was “the development of technology over the next few days that would allow us to remove or block participants at the geographic level. This enables us to respond to requests from local authorities if they find that activities on our platform are illegal within their limits.
"In the future, Zoom will not allow requests from the Chinese government to affect people outside of mainland China," the company said. However, it is unlikely that this will comfort activists in mainland China or Hong Kong who are looking for ways to communicate safely with each other or outside the country.
One of the affected activists, Lee Cheuk-yan, who lives in Hong Kong, expressed his dismay at the company's actions against the Guardian. "You have restored my account, but Zoom is still kneeling in front of the Communist Party," he said. “My goal at opening Zoom is to reach mainland Chinese and break the Chinese Communist Party's censorship. This directive nullifies my original purpose. "