Xinjiang Authorities Block, Punish Free Expression

July 2, 2009

Authorities in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR) continued in 2009 to engage in censorship campaigns and punish people for peaceful expression and assembly. Authorities outside the XUAR also participated in the censorship of a Web site devoted to Uyghur issues. The measures continue a longstanding trend in blocking and punishing free expression in the XUAR, especially among the Uyghur ethnic group.

Authorities in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR) continued in 2009 to engage in censorship campaigns and punish people for peaceful expression and assembly. Authorities outside the XUAR also participated in the censorship of a Web site devoted to Uyghur issues. The measures continue a longstanding trend in blocking and punishing free expression in the XUAR, especially among the Uyghur ethnic group. The continued controls also come amid a year of heightened government repression in the region. See below for information on recently reported government efforts to block and penalize free expression and assembly, as well as for a newly reported development in the case of imprisoned Uyghur writer Nurmemet Yasin.

Censorship Campaigns

In 2008, XUAR authorities made "illegal" political and religious publications the focal point for that year's campaign to "Sweep Away Pornography and Strike Down Illegal Publications." In late 2008 and early 2009, authorities reported on the continuation of censorship campaigns that included focus on "illegal" political and religious publications.

  • A district in Qaramay municipality reported in late November 2008 that the municipal government had issued a "notice on confiscating Muslim books such as 'The Truth About the Holy Teachings' and 'The Call to Orthodoxy,'" according to a November 29 report on the Jerenbulaq district (Baijiantan), Qaramay municipal government Web site. Authorities investigated local book and music sellers in accordance with the notice, the article reported.
  • In an inspection of the cultural market in the XUAR capital of Urumqi, authorities reported confiscating 175 copies of "illegal religious pictures," according to a February 10 report from the Urumqi municipal government Web site.
  • XUAR authorities will coordinate with propaganda departments from provinces including Gansu, Qinghai, Shaanxi, and the Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region to establish a cross-provincial mechanism to stop the printing and sales of "illegal" religious materials, according to a March 2 Xinjiang Daily report about a meeting to enlarge the law enforcement teams that monitor cultural markets in the XUAR. The article also reported that in 2009, XUAR authorities established a fund to reward efforts to "purify" the cultural market, with focus on "illegal" religious and political publications.
  • As part of a campaign to curb "illegal religious activity" in Hoten district, authorities reported finding large amounts of "illegal propaganda materials such as books, handwritten texts, CDs, and tapes," according to a March 4 article on the Xinjiang Peace Net. See a related Congressional-Executive Commission on China analysis for more information about the steps to fight "illegal religious activity" in Hoten.
  • Authorities in the XUAR will implement a special system of oversight for bookstores, newspaper stands, audio and video suppliers, and similar vendors that are located within 500 meters of schools, according to a March 18 report from Tianshan Net. The report also provided statistics on the number of books confiscated in 2008. Of a total of 877,193 copies of items confiscated in 2008, 29,905 were "illegal" political materials. The article did not report the number of "illegal" religious items confiscated.

Repeated Shutdown of "Uyghur Biz" Web site, Webmaster Questioned

In March, authorities repeatedly shut down the multi-language Web site Uyghur Biz (also known as Uyghur Online) and interrogated Beijing-based Uyghur scholar Ilham Toxti, who runs the site, according to reports from Radio Free Asia (RFA). (See March 6, March 26, and May 12 English-language reports and March 5, 6, and 24 Uyghur-language reports.) Ilham Toxti reported that authorities accused him of separatism, according to the May 12 report. Authorities initially shut down the site in early March, after Ilham Toxti gave an interview criticizing government administration in the XUAR. Based on CECC monitoring, the Mandarin-language version of the Web site was available again on March 9 and the Uyghur-language version on March 10. CECC monitoring found that the site was again closed on March 20, one day after the site hosted an article by Ilham Toxti stating that XUAR government chairperson Nur Bekri was unfit for his job. The Internet censorship follows the closure of Uyghur Biz in mid-2008, as reported in a June 12, 2008, RFA article, and also follows the closure of some Uyghur-language bulletin board services during the 2008 Beijing Summer Olympic Games. According to the March 26 RFA article, the Uyghur Biz Web site has been shut down a total of six times since Ilham Toxti first started the site in 2006.

Penalizing Free Expression and Assembly

Several reports from March and April 2009 described steps to punish people for exercising their right to distribute information or organize protests:

  • According to April reports from Radio Free Asia (RFA), authorities in Turpan municipality detained Ekberjan Jamal, a young Uyghur man, on December 25, 2007, after he had used his cell phone to make audio recordings of November 2007 shopkeepers' demonstrations in Turpan and sent the recordings to friends overseas. (See an April 15 English-language report and April 13 and 14 Uyghur-language reports.) His friends gave the recordings to Hong Kong-based Phoenix News and to RFA. (See 2007 RFA articles about the demonstrations dated November 1, 2, and 26.) Ekberjan Jamal later posted on his own Web site the news based on his audio recordings. The Turpan Intermediate People's Court sentenced Ekberjan Jamal to 10 years in prison on February 28, 2008, for splittism and revealing state secrets, crimes under articles 103 and 111 of the Criminal Law. He is being held in the Xinjiang Number 4 prison in Urumqi, according to the RFA reports.
  • Chinese state-run media reported in March that procuratorate officials approved the arrest of and initiated prosecution against a young man, identified only as "Ya," after he allegedly "spread rumors" on the Internet about a clash that broke out in January at an Internet Café in Shayar county, Aqsu district. (See a March 16 report from Tianshan Net and a March 17 report from Xinhua, via China Daily.) The reports said that "Ya" fabricated the nature of the clash, reporting that Han Chinese had beaten and killed a Uyghur youth, describing police indifference to the matter, and reporting that over 500 Uyghurs took to the streets to demonstrate. The Tianshan Net report said that "Ya's" article was then used by "separatist" Web sites overseas that aimed to "disrupt ethnic unity" and "influence social stability." (For reports on the incident by RFA after the clash broke out in late January, see a February 6 article as well as RFA Uyghur-language articles from January 30, February 3, and February 4. See also a January 31 report from the East Turkistan Information Center.)
  • Also in March, official media reported that in June 2008, authorities from Hoten district intercepted and arrested people described as members of Hizb ut-Tahrir who planned to "sabotage" the Olympic torch relay. A report posted March 3 on the Hoten Peace Net (from the Hoten Frontier Defense Detachment) said that authorities found the group traveling in a vehicle carrying a computer, printer, and "reactionary" leaflets. The report did not provide additional details about the case.
  • The Uyghur American Association reported in a March 16 press release that a court in Hoten municipality, Hoten district, sentenced Abdukadir Mahsum on February 26 to 15 years in prison for his activities organizing peaceful demonstrations in Hoten in March 2008 to protest government human rights abuses. The news follows other steps in the XUAR to punish people who plan or participate in demonstrations. In December 2008 public security offices took two young men into detention after they tried to organize a demonstration on the campus of Xinjiang University.

New Report Provides Update on Imprisoned Writer

According to information reported in a March 17 Radio Free Asia (RFA) article, prison authorities have taken repercussions against imprisoned writer Nurmemet (Nurmuhemmet) Yasin since he met with UN Special Rapporteur on Torture Manfred Nowak in late 2005 and reported mistreatment to Nowak. According to the RFA article, authorities have reduced Nurmemet Yasin's family visits from every two months to twice a year and have restricted Nurmemet Yasin's activities within prison as punishment for having not "reformed his views." Nurmemet Yasin is serving a 10-year prison sentence for "inciting splittism," based on a short story he wrote about a pigeon that chooses suicide over life within a cage.

For more information on freedom of expression in the XUAR, see the following CECC analyses:

For more information on conditions in the XUAR, see Section IV--Xinjiang, in the CECC 2008 Annual Report.