China Orders Xinjiang's Android Users to Install App That Deletes 'Terrorist' Content

The app automatically searches any Android device and deletes content deemed linked to "terrorism" or "illegal religious activity."

A Chinese policeman stands guard as Muslims arrive for the Eid al-Fitr morning prayer at the Id Kah Mosque in Kashgar, northwestern China's Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, June 26, 2017.

Authorities in the northwestern region of Xinjiang have ordered local residents to install an app on their cell phones that will monitor their activity for "terrorist" content, local sources told RFA on Thursday.

"In order to achieve city-wide coverage in the antiterrorist video and audio clean-up, and to target people, materials and thinking for clean-up work, management and crackdowns, a technology company affiliated with the municipal police department has developed an app for Android smartphones that can filter out terrorist video and audio content," the Tianshan district government in the regional capital Urumqi said in a directive issued July 10.

The app, called CleanWebGuard, is to be installed by all Android smartphone users in the city, regardless of ethnic group, in order to carry out "self-surveillance," the directive said.

The app is designed to be installed on Android smartphones with the use of a QR code.

"Once operational, it will automatically pinpoint the location of video or audio containing terrorist content or illegal religious content, images, e-books or documents, and delete them automatically,"
the Tianshan notice said.

It warned that anyone declining to delete or trying to save such content "will be pursued according to law."

Local residential neighborhood committees and places of work were also ordered to post notices requiring people to use CleanWebGuard, it said.

Notices must also be placed in audiovisual retailers, residential communities, institutes of higher education and public places where people gather in numbers, providing the local population with the QR to install the app, it said.

"Antiterrorism task-force leaders" across the city must provide full statistics and report back on their implementation of the measures, it said.

The QR code instructions order smartphone users to open up the popular social media app WeChat and download the CleanWebGuard app from within the app.

The app's website advertises it as a family-friendly filter aimed at protecting internet users from porn sites, online fraud, viruses and malware, and phishing sites.

However, it also offers "mobile phone remote control and other security services," the website said.

‘Targeted for persecution’

Dilxat Raxit, spokesman for the exile group World Uyghur Congress, said the Chinese authorities are targeting Muslims generally, which includes many Kazakhs in China.

"The plight of Uyghurs is already in the international eye, but it's not just Uyghurs who are suffering oppression in Xinjiang," Raxit said. "There are also Kazakhs, Kyrgyz and other Turkic ethnic groups who are being increasingly targeted by China for persecution."

"The international community shouldn't ignore the treatment of these groups, but should be concerned about any ethnic minority groups under threat with the borders of Xinjiang," he said.

An ethnic minority Kazakh resident of Xinjiang said police are already using the app to monitor users' digital activity, resulting in the detention of 10 Kazakh women in Xinjiang's Ili Kazakh Autonomous Prefecture on Tuesday.

"They detained 10 Kazakh women on charges of using WeChat to discuss content that shouldn't be discussed," a Kazakh source in the region told RFA on Thursday.

"One of the women was named as Jamila," he said. "They are all ordinary citizens, with no connection to anything political or religious."

Another Kazakh source said the Xinjiang authorities are now requiring ethnic minority communities to demonstrate their loyalty to Beijing by attending daily morning flag-raising ceremonies.

A video of one of the ceremonies seen by RFA showed a number of people lined up in front of a building in a remote, mountainous region, listening to the Chinese national anthem.

And authorities in Xinjiang's Chapchal county also recently detained an ethnic Kazakh woman after her husband became a Kazakh citizen, amid a regionwide crackdown on Kazakhs relocating across the shared border.

"She is a Chinese national, but they wanted to know why her husband had applied for Kazakstan citizenship," the source said.

Growing anger

The detentions come amid growing anger among Kazakhs with relatives in China over the Chinese Communist Party's widening crackdown on the minority ethnic group within its borders.

Last month, a group of state scientists and other scholars hit out at the "persecution" of ethnic Kazakhs by Chinese authorities, and called on Astana to put pressure on Beijing.

Residents of Kazakhstan have complained they are being prevented from seeing their families after Chinese authorities began confiscating the passports and residence permits of ethnic minority Kazakhs whose family members live across the border.

Some 200,000 Kazakhs who hold Chinese passports and permanent residence cards for Kazakhstan were told to hand in their Kazakhstan-issued residency cards to Chinese police "for safekeeping," although sources later said officials in some parts of Xinjiang were rapidly backpedaling on the policy and working round the clock to send Kazakh green cards and passports back to their owners.

Reported by Qiao Long and Xi Wang for RFA's Mandarin Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.