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Uighurs Still Censored and Detained Four Months After Riots

Four months after ethnic riots erupted in the Xinjiang region of China, Reporters Without Borders has found that the majority of websites operated by or geared toward the Uighur community are still being blocked.

The majority of people in the region still cannot access more than 85 percent of local webpages, nor can they send SMS messages or in some cases, even make phone calls. The Chinese government’s official reasoning for the censorship is to stop “terrorists”, which they say utilized these methods to initiate the riots in the first place.

“The official reason given for this blackout, that ‘terrorists used the Internet and SMS messaging,’ is unacceptable.,” says Reporters Without Borders. “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.”

On top of the blatant censorship, many of the hundreds of people that were rounded up after the riots have yet to be charged or released.

Hailaite Niyazi, a Uighur journalist, was taken from his home a month ago today. His family was told that he was suspected of endangering national security, but they suspect the arrest is due to the interviews Niyazi gave to foreign reporters during the days following the riots.

New Strategy After Riots: China Controls Foreign Press By Welcoming Them

Just one month after China’s Great Firewall boosted internet blockades for the 20th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square Massacre, China has once again blocked social networking sites like Twitter, and has slowed internet and cell phone service in a vain attempt to keep unfiltered news from escaping the country. This in response to riots that began Sunday between two conflicting ethnic groups in western China.

But this time the government seems to know they can’t keep the gory images or the staggering body count (topping 150 according to some reports) from reaching the rest of the world. For a country about to celebrate its 60th year of communism, internet censorship comes as no surprise, but unlike Iran’s recent blanket censorship and ban on reporters during the post-election protests, China is so far welcoming foreign journalists.

On top of creating a press center and offering discounted hotel rooms, journalists were invited to tour Urumqi–the capitol of the western Xinjiang region where the riots originated–including visits to the hospitals treating over 1,000 wounded Han Chinese and Uighur protesters.

Journalists are being taken by the govn’t around the hospitals, and now to an area full of burned out Han shops,” the Daily Telegraph’s Malcolm Moore wrote on Twitter.

Twitter has made a name for itself due in part to its use as a runaround against censors everywhere from Moldova to Iran. This site is just one of the many that has made it impossible to seal information inside a city as China has tried to do both with the recent Tiananmen anniversary and with the Tibet protests last year.

With last month’s backlash and embarrassing videos of plain-clothed guards trying to block reporters with opened umbrellas, perhaps China sees this as the better way to take control of the press–and it is hard criticize them for unrolling the welcome mat, no matter their intentions.

Knowing full well that the journalists are being used as pawns of government propaganda, one can only assume that they will look past what they are being spoon fed. And that presence and ability to see firsthand and report as they please can only be seen as a small victory for freedom of the press.

The riots began on Sunday as a peaceful protest by the Uighur, a group of Muslim Chinese, for the alleged 25 Uighur factory workers that were killed in southern China. State media reported only two deaths in the incident and the disparity coupled with with wild rumors lead to increasing tensions. Accusations of unreported (and often untrue) violence from both the Uighur and the Han Chinese has continue to fuel the rage.