blame foreign activists for inciting violent protests this week in Xinjiang, and
say the Internet enabled them to do it. Uighur groups have used the Internet to
rapidly get out images from what they say was a provocative government crackdown
on a peaceful demonstration.
Following Sunday's violence
in Xinjiang region, Chinese authorities were hasty to point fingers.
At a news conference Monday, Xinjiang's police chief Liu Yaohua
blamed the World Uighur Congress, an international Uighur rights
Liu accused the organization
of distorting China's ethnic and religious policy to stir up conflict. But he
especially singled out the Internet, describing it as the main medium that
foreign forces use to communicate with Uighurs in China.
Uighur activists say a peaceful demonstration Sunday in
Xinjiang's capital, Urumqi, turned violent after police began cracking down.
Chinese authorities accuse groups like the World Uighur Congress of
masterminding a riot from afar, in an effort ultimately aimed at creating an
The government has acted
quickly to block access to information. Authorities acknowledge that Internet
service in Urumqi has been interrupted, but they do not say how long it will be
out. They say the interruption was done legally, and is necessary to maintain
In Beijing, the Twitter messaging system, which protesters in
Iran recently used to report on police crackdowns there, has been disabled. And
while cell phone connections in the Xinjiang capital, Urumqi, still operate,
getting a call to the city, or making an international call from there, is
Xiao Qiang teaches journalism
at the University of California at Berkeley. He also edits China Digital Times, a round-up of
Chinese-language content on the Internet.
"Internet is playing a bigger role this year," Xiao noted.
"Partially because what happened in Urumqi was immediately exposed by lots of
cell-phone cameras, digital cameras, videos - there's a lot of witness(es),
people [who] immediately wrote and sent out video images on the
Xiao compares what happened
in Urumqi to the events last year in the capital of Tibet, Lhasa, when scores of
Tibetans clashed with security forces there. He says Internet use in Urumqi is
much more than in Lhasa.
He says Chinese authorities
immediately began removing all Internet references to the Urumqi protest, and
blocking social networking sites.
There are ways of getting
around Web restrictions. Xiao says Chinese Internet users have been engaging in
a tactic called "tomb digging." Users on a bulletin board forum post an
up-to-date response to an older post that mentions Xinjiang and has not yet been
"It's basically a covered-up
way to discuss those banned issues, under the nose of the editors of those
forums, and it could be very effective," Xiao said.
What caused violence?
Xiao says the opinions on Internet forums are much more varied
than those in official Chinese media. Some support the government and the use of
force to crack down on chaos. But other users are mistrustful of the
government's handling of the situation and are more reflective about the cause
of the violence.
The Uighurs are a mostly
Muslim ethnic group with cultural and linguistic ties to Central Asia. For
years, many have complained that country's ethnic majority, the Han, are taking
over their traditional home, Xinjiang, in western China, and that they face
University of Washington
Chinese studies Professor David Bachman says the images of the crackdown he has
seen show the use of force has been "extensive" and "in some ways merciless."
Despite the government's criticism of the Internet, the wide dissemination of
pictures like those also helps spread Beijing's stern warning.
"Clearly, the Chinese government is saying to Uighurs and to
others in Xinjiang and to Tibetans and other minority groups, or for domestic
protesters in the heart of China, that protests will be met with strict and
harsh measures. Don't even think about it," Bachman said.
Bachman says cracking down -
on both a restive minority and on public access to information - may solve
short-term problems, but will only breed more resentment and opposition in the
He says there is no quick fix
to the long-standing tensions between Han Chinese and Uighurs. He says any
efforts to make the problem better, though, should first focus on deeper issues,
such as trying to alleviate perceived imbalances, discrimination and