Mr. Zhang Chunxian
Paris, 19 May 2010
Subject: Internet situation in the Xinjiang Autonomous Region
Dear Mr. Zhang,
Reporters Without Borders notes the Xinjiang Autonomous Region’s reconnection to the Internet on 14 May, which has allowed a relative reopening to the outside world, and we urge you to pursue this trend by pressing for less online censorship at the central government’s next meeting to examine the situation in Xinjiang.
Cut off from the world for near 10 months following the July 2009 unrest, Xinjiang was the victim of a discriminatory measure as regards Internet access. It was the longest-ever case of government censorship of this kind. The return to “normal” is a positive sign. Nonetheless, we cannot ignore the fact that Xinjiang’s Internet users are subject to filtering by the Great Electronic Wall of China, which prevents access to websites and content regarded as subversive by the authorities.
You recently said that you wanted to “maintain stability at all costs” and that you were ready to crack down on “separatist elements.” The solution to your region’s problems does not lie solely in the application of economic remedies. It also requires increased respect for freedom of expression, to which its inhabitants have a right, and a reduction or elimination of censorship about the Uyghur cause, which cannot be branded as just terrorism.
Websites and blogs about the Uyghur issue continue to be a favourite target for the censors. Many of them – including the sites of the Uyghur American Association (UAA) and Uyghur Human Rights Project (UHRP) – are still blocked because they do not toe the official line promoted by the central government. The list of forbidden keywords includes “Rebiya Kadeer” (the Uyghur human rights activist), “World Uyghur Congress,” “Uyghur Human Rights Project” and “East Turkestan Independence.”
In October 2009, Reporters Without Borders investigated access to websites dedicated to the Uyghur community, including sites in the Uyghur language, in Mandarin and, in a few cases, in English. It found that most of these sites, operated by Uyghurs for Uyghurs, were inaccessible both to Internet users based in Xinjiang and those abroad. Of the 81 sites investigated, more than 85 per cent were blocked, censored or otherwise unreachable. They included very popular sites 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. We urge you to ensure that these websites are reopened.
Above all, many journalists, netizens and website editors are still in jail. They include Dilshat Parhat (the co-founder of the Uyghur website Diyarim), Nureli (the creator of the Uyghur website Selkin), Muhemmet (the head of another Uyghur website), Obulkasim (a contributor to Diyarim) and the journalist Gheyret Niyaz.
You have been dubbed the “Internet Secretary” because of your Internet expertise and your readiness to discuss issues online with the public. We therefore hope that you will defend a less censored Internet. Censorship is an obstacle to Xinjiang’s economic development and to its stability in the long term.
We thank you in advance for the attention you give to our request.