Reporters Without Borders has surveyed access to websites dedicated to the Uyghur community, including sites in the Uyghur language, in Mandarin and sometimes in English. These sites, operated by Uyghurs for Uyghurs, are for the most part inaccessible both to Internet users based in Xinjiang and those abroad. More than 85 per cent of the surveyed sites were blocked, censored or otherwise unreachable.
“The discrimination to which Uyghurs have been subjected for decades as regards their freedom of expression and their religious and economic freedom now applies to their Internet access as well,” Reporters Without Borders said. “Four months after the violence in Urumqi, the Chinese authorities continue to keep the province cut off from the rest of the world. We must not be duped by the illusion of normality. Most Uyghurs still cannot go online, send SMS messages or even make phone calls.”
The press freedom organisation added: “The official reason given for this blackout, that ‘terrorists used the Internet and SMS messaging,’ is unacceptable. Do the Pakistani or Afghan authorities suspend the Internet because terrorists sent email messages? No. The Chinese government seems more interested in preventing Xinjiang’s inhabitants from circulating information about the real situation in the province, especially about the crackdown after the July riots.”
Reporters Without Borders urges the authorities to restore Internet and phone connections in Xinjiang without delay. “The dozens of websites in the Uyghur language and websites about Xinjiang that have been closed must be allowed to reopen and those who edit them must have freedom of movement,” the organisation added.
Carried out in October, the survey examined around 100 Uyghur websites, portals, forums, blogs and other kinds of online platform. Various factors were considered, such as the country in which the site is based, the type of site (such as forum or blog), the type of content (such as news, politics, culture or sport), the language, and the problems encountered when the attempt was made to visit the site (such as change of address, overly long delay in opening or error message).
The results highlight the degree of paralysis of the Uyghur Internet during the pasts four months. The more than 85 per cent of the sites that are inaccessible include very popular ones such as Diyarim (www.diyarim.com), Xabnam (www.xabnam.com) and Ulinix (www.ulinix.com), a site registered in the name of the University of Xinjiang that served as a portal.
More than half of the websites – including Uzmakan (www.uzmakan.com) and Uzonline (www.uzonline.net), whose addresses refer explicitly to the Uyghur community – are inaccessible because of interminable connection delays. Others have for months been displaying temporary error messages, which disguise the fact that they have been closed down for good.
The few accessible sites such as Uighurbiz (www.uighurbiz.net) are based in other countries, often the United States, where there is a sizable Uyghur diaspora, or are based in China but have a content that is in no way political and have no sensitive information, such as Blogbus (www.qutyar.blogbus.com).
Some sites are the victims of targeted censorship. The news section of the Gazina website (www.gazina.com) was inaccessible during the survey but its music and cinema sections were working. The Akburkut (www.akburkut.com), Tahdir (bbs.tahdir.com), Uyghurum (www.uyghurum.net) and Karamet (http://karamet.5d6d.com) websites did not let visitors register in order to post messages.
Many reports have confirmed Xinjiang’s isolation since July 2009 and the severe problems being encountered by Internet café owners, online stores, and students while they wait for the Internet to resume working. Ordinary residents are also hard put to send or receive emails or text messages.
The Chinese authorities meanwhile continue to regularly censor websites in general. An average of one site is shut down every two days. This is what happened on 24 October, for example, to the blogs on the Free China Forum (http://zyzg.us.), one of the most influential political debate platforms.
Similarly, Window of Southern Breeze, a website linked to the Guangzhou Daily News Corporation’s online magazine, was blocked on 26 October after it posted an article from the 21 October print issue about incidents involving the police. Other sites that had reproduced the article had to remove it.
Reporters Without Borders is also worried by the arrest of Uyghur journalist Hailaite Niyazi, the former editor of the Uighurbiz website, on 1 October. His family was told three days later that he was suspected of “endangering national security.” His arrest appears to have been prompted by an interview he gave about the Xinjiang regional government’s attitude to the riots. Uighurbiz has been accused several times in the past of “encouraging violence” in Xinjiang.