Xinjiang Government Issues Internet Regulation, Keeps Strict Controls on Information

December 8, 2009

Authorities in the far-western region of Xinjiang have passed a new regulation on "informatization" promotion that includes provisions against using the Internet to incite ethnic separatism, threaten state security, or spread false information. While the ban is similar in some respects to prohibitions found elsewhere in China, Xinjiang authorities also have stressed the importance of the regulation in upholding stability following demonstrations and outbreaks of violence in the region in July and September. The regulation follows earlier efforts in Xinjiang to limit and punish people for online activity.

Internet Regulation Targets Online Separatism

On December 1, a new regulation will go into effect in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR) that includes provisions that prohibit the use of the Internet to incite ethnic separatism, threaten state security, or spread false information, among other acts. The Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region Informatization Promotion Regulation, adopted on September 25, also contains general provisions to promote and regulate Internet technology, similar to regulations elsewhere in China, some of which also prohibit certain online activity. The XUAR regulation comes as authorities have stated concern about the role of the Internet in events on July 5, when Uyghurs organized a demonstration in Urumqi and outbreaks of violence also occurred. A member of the XUAR People's Congress Legal Committee described the new measures as partly a response to the Internet having been used to "spread rumors, incite ethnic separatism, and provoke disturbance" in the lead-up to events on July 5, and to spread "false reports and information to confuse public opinion" after July 5, according to a paraphrasing of his remarks in a September 23 Xinjiang Dushibao article. The regulation also comes after authorities issued a notice that called for punishing the intentional spread of false information following reports of syringe attacks in September. This recent focus on regulating Internet use in the XUAR follows the shutdown of Internet access in the region soon after July 5. Internet access in the region reportedly remains limited. (See, eg., an October 29 Reporters Without Borders report, an October 29 Radio Free Asia report, an October 23 Agence France-Presse report (via Google), an October 23 IDG News Service report (via PC World), and a September 28 China Daily report.)

The new XUAR regulation aims to promote information technology and infrastructure in the region, but also strengthens oversight of "information security," including by prohibiting several categories of Internet conduct. Article 40 of the regulation prohibits using the Internet to:

(1) endanger state security or harm national and social interests; (2) destroy ethnic unity, incite ethnic separatism, or endanger social stability; (3) endanger the safety of the Internet and information systems; (4) violate intellectual property rights, trade secrets, or the lawful rights and interests of individual privacy, citizens, corporations, or other groups; (5) furnish, produce, or disseminate false or harmful information; (6) produce or disseminate information that is obscene, pornographic, violent, terrorist, homicidal, or that instigates crime; and (7) carry out other acts prohibited in laws and regulations.

Article 41 of the regulation specifies penalties for violating the prohibitions. (Article 8(4) of the PRC Legislation Law states that only national laws (falu) may be enacted relating to crimes and criminal sanctions. As a regulation (tiaoli), the XUAR legislation does not directly criminalize online activity. It stipulates that authorities are to pursue criminal responsibility for certain violations of the regulation.) Article 41 of the XUAR regulation specifies that for violations involving the first two types of prohibited conduct, which include using the Internet to endanger state security, destroy ethnic unity, or incite ethnic separatism, public security organs will "strike hard" against the activity, and judicial organs will "thoroughly and swiftly investigate criminal responsibility." Individuals and work units that engage in any of (3) through (6) above, including using the Internet to spread false information, will be subject to fines. In addition, Article 34 of the regulation requires Internet service providers and related administrators to "establish and perfect" an "inspection and control" system for Internet security, and Article 43 specifies fines and the possibility of criminal responsibility for violations of Article 34.

National Measures, Provincial Regulations Contain Some Similarities to Xinjiang Regulation

Previous national measures on Internet use and those from other localities in China also have addressed state security, separatism, ethnic unity, and the spread of rumors. Articles 4 and 5 of the Measures for the Administration of Security Protection of Computer Information Networks With International Connections, issued in 1997 by the Ministry of Public Security, prohibit use of the Internet that "endangers state security" and specify that work units and individuals must not use the Internet to "produce, duplicate, look for, or disseminate" information that "incites separatism" or "ethnic hatred," "destroys the unity of the nation" or "ethnic unity," or "spreads false information," among other acts. Articles 20 and 22 of these national measures also specify fines for violations and stipulates that criminal responsibility will be pursued for serious violations. See related provisions directed at Internet news and information services work units in Article 15 of the Measures for the Administration of Internet Information Services and Article 19 of the Provisions on the Administration of Internet News Information Services. At least two local regulations, the Hangzhou Municipality Computer Information Internet Safety and Protection Management Regulation (Article 23), and the Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region Regulation on Computer Information Systems Security Protection (Article 17), both issued this year, contain detailed lists of prohibited acts similar to the above national measures and to the relevant articles of the XUAR regulation, as well as stipulations on pursuing criminal responsibility for some violations (Articles 42 and 33, respectively). In the past two years, other areas of the country have issued informatization promotion regulations, including Beijing, Tianjin, Shandong, and Yunnan, which are similar to the new XUAR regulation in their general aims of information promotion. They do not contain the same detailed list of prohibited Internet activity, but some of the regulations contain prohibitions on endangering state security or other acts and penalize violations. (See Articles 36 and 47 in the Beijing regulation and Article 38 of the Shandong regulation.)

International human rights standards permit restrictions on free expression in order to protect public interests such as state security, but Chinese officials exceed such allowances by using regulations such as the one recently passed in the XUAR to target expression that the Communist Party deems to be a threat to its own, as opposed to the public's, interests. For more information, see Section II―Freedom of Expression―Censorship of the Internet and Cell Phones in the CECC 2009 Annual Report.

Xinjiang and Beijing Authorities Detain Internet Posters, Bloggers

The XUAR regulation indicates the government has placed a renewed emphasis on regulating and punishing certain types of Internet activity following events in July, but XUAR authorities have punished people for similar activity in the past. In March 2009, Chinese state media reported that authorities initiated prosecution against a man identified only as "Ya" after he allegedly "spread rumors" and fabricated information on the Internet about a clash in Shayar County, Aqsu district, between Uyghurs and Han. A XUAR media report said that Ya's articles were used by foreign Web sites that aimed to "disrupt ethnic unity" and "influence social stability." In a case involving both sharing information overseas and posting it on the Internet in China, in December 2007, authorities in Turpan detained Ekberjan Jamal after he took audio footage of shopkeepers' demonstrations, sent it to foreign media outlets, and published the media outlets' news on his own Web site. The Turpan Intermediate People's Court sentenced him in February 2008 to 10 years in prison for splittism and revealing state secrets. (See previous CECC analysis for more information on the cases of "Ya" and Ekberjan Jamal.)

In a case outside of the XUAR but connected to events in Urumqi on July 5, Beijing authorities detained Uyghur scholar Ilham Tohti around July 8 after an official within the XUAR alleged Ilham Tohti's blog contributed to incitement of rioting on July 5. After holding Ilham Tohti in a hotel and within his home, authorities released him without charges on August 22, according to an August 24 Radio Free Asia report. Earlier in the year, Ilham Tohti had said that he had been repeatedly interrogated by police and informally accused of separatism. In a more recent case with an apparent connection to Internet use and events in July, XUAR authorities detained Dilshat Perhat (Dilixiati Paerhati), editor of the Web site, on August 7, according to an October 22 Amnesty International press release. Specific details about his current detention are not available, but authorities had earlier questioned him about events in Urumqi in July, the press release reported.

For more information on conditions in the XUAR, see Section IV―Xinjiang in the CECC 2009 Annual Report. For more information about Internet censorship generally in China, see Section II―Freedom of Expression in the CECC 2009 Annual Report.