Xinjiang Authorities Target Religious and Political Publications in Censorship Campaigns

March 31, 2011

Local governments in the far western region of Xinjiang carried out a series of censorship campaigns in 2010 and early 2011. The work follows a national campaign to "Sweep Away Pornography and Strike Down Illegal Publications," but with special emphasis on religious and political publications, along with "reactionary materials" connected to groups perceived to threaten Xinjiang's stability. The campaigns have targeted pirated and pornographic items as well as publications deemed "illegal" solely because of their religious or political content. Chinese and overseas media have reported on cases of authorities confiscating religious materials, searching out materials in Uyghur in some cases, inspecting vehicles that transport publications, and detaining people in connection with "illegal" political or religious items.

Authorities in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR) have continued widespread censorship campaigns in 2010 and 2011, according to recent reports. The censorship work in the XUAR hews to a countrywide campaign to "Sweep Away Pornography and Strike Down Illegal Publications," but with special emphasis on religious and political items and "reactionary materials" that authorities deem are from organizations connected to the "three forces" of terrorism, separatism, and religious extremism. A work plan from the XUAR Press and Publications Bureau leading Party group, published July 5, 2010, on the bureau's Web site, called for deepening implementation of censorship work during the last half of 2010 and focusing on "striking hard" against "reactionary propaganda materials" and "illegal" political and religious publications publicized and disseminated by the "three forces." At a meeting one month later, an official from China's General Administration for Press and Publications called for placing primacy on "attacking illegal religious publications and the three forces' reactionary propaganda material" in the region's censorship work, according to an August 4 Tianshan Net report.

At a January 14, 2011, meeting on the XUAR's censorship work in 2011, a XUAR official alleged "infiltration and sabotage by Western hostile forces and the 'three forces' inside and outside the borders" who used the publishing and cultural markets to "import Western values and an ideological trend in 'Xinjiang independence'" as a "major method" for "subverting, infiltrating, and destroying" the XUAR, according to a January 16, 2011, Xinjiang Daily article (via Xinhua's Bingtuan Net). The official called for strengthening inspection and prosecution of "illegal" religious and political publications, as well as "reactionary propaganda materials." Amid the regionwide reports, local governments throughout the XUAR have reported on carrying out censorship campaigns and confiscating items deemed "illegal." Overseas media has reported on campaigns targeting Uyghur bookstores and Uyghur-language materials. Reports from 2010 and early 2011 include:

  • Transportation Routes Inspected. At a transportation inspection point in Toqsun county, Turpan district, on January 31, 2011, staff inspecting a passenger discovered "suspicious items" that authorities later determined were "illegal religious publications" consisting of 13 Uyghur-language and 74 Arabic-language items, according to a February 22, 2011, report on the XUAR Transport Department Web site. At the January 14 regionwide meeting on censorship work, discussed above, an official called for strengthening control over the transportation of published items. A spokesperson from the World Uyghur Congress said that authorities were carrying out regular searches of vehicles transporting Uyghur-language materials as part of broader efforts to censor materials amid protests in the Middle East, according to a February 22, 2011, Radio Free Asia article.
  • Urumqi Books Contain "Serious Political Errors." According to a review of censorship activities in 2010, in January authorities in Urumqi tracked down over 500 copies of a book from a Beijing publisher that contained "serious political errors," a February 10, 2011, Tianshan Net article reported. In June 2010, authorities reportedly confiscated more than 30,000 publications shipped from Beijing to Urumqi, according to the same report. The items included not only pirated and pornographic items but also 146 items "suspected of being of a political or a religious nature."
  • "On-the-spot Takeovers" of Illegal Religious, Political Materials. Authorities in counties and cities directly under the Ili Kazakh Autonomous Prefecture reported launching a campaign during the New Year's holiday and Chinese New Year in early February, with a focus on "illegal" political and religious materials and "reactionary propaganda material," according to a February 11, 2011, report on Xinjiang Culture Net. Sites found to have the illegal items would be "dealt with severely" and with "on-the-spot takeovers," the report said. Authorities also placed focus on audio-visual materials, including items on a list handed down from national and XUAR authorities, again with emphasis on political and religious items. Earlier, the World Uyghur Congress (WUC) and sources interviewed by Radio Free Asia reported in December 2010 on campaigns in Ili Kazakh Autonomous Prefecture and Kashgar district to close down Uyghur bookstores and publishers in Kashgar and confiscate audio-visual materials in Ili, according to a December 3 Radio Free Asia report. Authorities reportedly detained five people in connection to religious videos and charged four people for recording and possessing CDs with "overseas enemy propaganda," according to the report. The WUC spokesperson also said that on February 22, 2011, public security officials in Urumqi detained Halmurat Imin, a 23-year-old Uyghur man, in connection to DVDs reportedly in his possession. Authorities accused him of "illegal collection of reactionary propaganda DVDs" and suspected "endangerment of state security," according to February 28 articles from Radio Free Asia (English, Chinese).
  • Quran Study Guides Confiscated. Authorities in the Bortala Mongol Autonomous Prefecture described launching a series of operations in late 2010 and early 2011 to inspect "cultural markets," according to a February 17, 2011, report on the Bortala People's Government Rule of Law Office Web site. One of the operations focused not only on pirated materials but also on "illegal political and religious materials." In one operation, authorities reported confiscating items including "A Guide to Studying the Quran" and "The Light of Faith."
  • Publications that "Fabricate Ideological Chaos" Targeted. In January 2011, authorities in Turghun township, Burultoqay county, Altay district, Ili, carried out an inspection of "audio-visual and publication markets," focusing especially on religious and political publications, including items that "propagate political rumors, fabricate ideological chaos, destroy social stability, harm unification of the country, or incite ethnic separatism," and "propaganda items of cult organizations like Falun Gong," according to a January 14 report on the Altay Party Construction Web site.

For more information on the Chinese government's ongoing campaign to target political and religious content more generally, see Section II—Freedom of Expression in the CECC 2010 Annual Report. For more information on conditions in the XUAR, see Section IV—Xinjiang.