Xinjiang, Tense Chinese Region, Adopts Strict Internet Controls



China — The regional government of China’s far western region of Xinjiang, which has grappled with ethnic violence, has put into effect strict regulations that punish people for spreading “false information” online.

The regulations appear to be aimed at criminalizing people living in Xinjiang who make online postings about ethnic conflict or tensions, as well as related violence and terrorism.

In recent years, Xinjiang and central government officials have said they are concerned about the spread of online material that might incite attacks by citizens. In areas of Xinjiang where there is a significant population of ethnic Uighurs, there have been notable incidents of violence, including here in Urumqi, the regional capital.

In 2009, ethnic rioting in Urumqi resulted in about 200 deaths — officials said most of the victims were ethnic Han, the dominant group in China — and a harsh security crackdown on Uighurs, a Turkic-speaking people who mostly practice Sunni Islam. Since then, violence has flared in southern oasis towns in Xinjiang, with Chinese officials attributing much of the bloodshed to “religious extremists” or “separatists.”

Xinjiang Daily, an official newspaper, said Wednesday that the purpose of the new rules was to “prevent and punish the crime of spreading false information that disturbs social order, and to protect the legal interests of citizens, legal representatives and other organizations.”

The central government has also been issuing regulations that try to control the spread of “false information.” In July, the Cyberspace Administration of China said it would punish website operators who post “directly as news reports unverified content found on online platforms such as social media.” Officials had already been punishing people in recent years for making a variety of posts said to be based on rumors.

Critics of the Communist Party’s systems of control say such bans are an attempt to stop the spread of ideas that officials think may weaken the party’s rule or legitimacy. (In the United States, a different political conversation about the spread of “fake news” online has been unfolding since last month’s presidential election.)

Officials in Xinjiang have been quick to clamp down on online communications in response to ethnic tensions. After the Urumqi rioting in 2009, officials shut down access to most outside websites for about a year, allowing Xinjiang’s residents to see only government-approved sites, essentially creating an intranet in a territory with about one-sixth of China’s land mass.

The new rules appear to be tailored to issues in the region. A list of 11 criteria fleshes out the definition of “false information” that would result in punishment; “advocating religious fanaticism or undermining religious harmony,” “advocating terrorism or radicalism” and “advocating ethnic hatred or ethnic discrimination” are among them.

The new rules also say that the Xinjiang government must strengthen its work on “cyber-information security” and “reinforce monitoring and management of internet service providers and internet users.” It also said internet service providers must be properly registered, must have the proper identification from all users and must perfect their “systems of content censorship.”

Websites and companies that fail to censor and delete the “false and harmful” information would be warned, fined and in some cases shut down, the regulations say. If “circumstances are serious,” the companies could be fined up to about $72,000, and individuals such as executives or employees could be separately fined up to about $14,500. The rules were adopted by the People’s Congress of Xinjiang on Dec. 1 and enacted Wednesday. courtesy NY Times.