Rights Activists Protest Outside Apple Store in Grand Central Station Over Complicity in China's Crackdown on Freedom

October 17, 2019

Tibetan, Uyghur, Chinese, Hong Kong, and Taiwanese rights activists join with global corporate watchdog at iconic NYC store to protest Apple's support of China's repressive free speech policies

NEW YORK –– Tibetan, Uyghur, Chinese, Hong Kong, and Taiwanese rights activists, along with global corporate watchdog SumOfUs, protested at Apple’s Grand Central Station store today to press Apple to stop collaborating with China’s censorship apparatus and unprecedented crackdown on freedom of expression. The protest kicked off a global campaign amidst reports of Apple’s increased collusion with the Chinese government’s efforts to repress and censor free communication.

Displaying signs with the Apple logo that read “iWant Apple to Stop Supporting China’s Crackdown on Freedom,” “iWant Apple to Stand up for Freedom," “iWant Apple to support the People, not the CCP," and similar demands, the activists put Apple on notice that its consumers will hold the company accountable for the ethical implications of its business practices in China. Other visitors to the Apple store also filled out their own messages in support of the campaign to stop Apple from collaborating with the Chinese government’s crackdown.

Activists distributed flyers, detailing how Apple is supporting China’s state crackdown on freedom, via Apple’s ‘Airdrop’ feature, a tactic inspired by the pro-democracy protesters in Hong Kong.

Apple’s decision to remove over 1,000 Virtual Private Network (VPN) apps from its China App Store in 2017 has made it essentially impossible for Tibetan, Uyghur, and Chinese rights defenders on the ground to safely communicate information deemed “sensitive” by China, such as topics involving the Dalai Lama, Tibetan freedom, Uyghur rights, or Tiananmen Square. Apple’s recent decision to bow to Chinese government pressure and remove HKmap.live from the App Store has also put Hong Kong pro-democracy protesters at further risk of an escalating police crackdown. Apple has also come under fire for removing the Taiwanese flag emoji for iOS users in Hong Kong and Macau, in addition to in mainland China.

"China censors, arrests, tortures, and even kills people who try to speak about freedom and human rights,” said Tenzin Dorjee, Senior Researcher and Strategist at Tibet Action Institute. “Apple’s removal of VPNs and similar apps from the App Store provides direct support to a crucial pillar of China’s authoritarian control and emboldens the Chinese government in its crackdown in Tibet and across China.

Said Rose Tang, a student protest survivor of the Tiananmen Square Massacre, “Apple’s removal of the HKmap.live, as well as Tim Cook’s false claim that this was done in the interest of public safety, is straight out of the Chinese government’s repression playbook.”

Alex Chang of Keep Taiwan Free added, “By also removing the Taiwan flag emoji from its products, Apple is playing right into China’s plan to try to erase Taiwan’s existence as an independent country, showing just how far the company will go to carry out Beijing’s broader political goals.”

According to Rushan Abbas, Founder, Campaign for Uyghurs, "Over one million Uyghurs are currently being abused and tortured in Chinese government concentration camps. Anonymous communication online through VPNs is often the only lifeline that our people have to share information and avoid punishment for simply speaking about the treatment of their loved ones. Companies like Apple have a responsibility to ensure they do not bolster the Chinese government’s repressive regime.”

Added Sonamtso, Campaigns and Communications Director at Students for a Free Tibet, “We call on Apple to resist the oppressive influence of the Chinese government. Apple should know its consumers won’t stand for this kind of dangerous collusion."

“Citizens and activists in China are willing to risk jail for freedom of expression while Apple and other global companies practice self-censorship or even facilitate China’s internet censorship and surveillance system. This is morally and politically unacceptable,” said Teng Biao, a prominent Chinese human rights lawyer and a visiting fellow at the U.S.-Asia Law Institute, New York University.

"Apple’s behaviour highlights the sacrifices, in terms of human rights and free expression, that corporations choose to make in order to operate in China. Worse, the company has refused to listen when human rights activists raised the alarm,” said Sondhya Gupta, Campaign Manager at SumOfUs. “Tech companies’ attitude of 'break stuff and fix it later' falls short when it's people's lives that are broken. With a proactive commitment to freedom of expression, Apple could have avoided this damage to its brand and, most importantly, human lives. We urge them to do so now."

Notes to editors:

  1. View images from the protest here: https://www.dropbox.com/sh/6arxu7krh0p4lhd/AABJdQ8nezri-y5PN-l9Pgywa?dl=0
  2. View the Facebook live stream of the event here: https://www.facebook.com/SumOfUsOrg/videos/410275833238649/
  3. View the SumOfUs Apple shareholder proposal here: www.sumofus.org/apple-free-expression 
  4. The joint campaign website can be viewed at https://stopapplecensorship.online/