Chinese authorities have shut down two websites aimed at the mostly Muslim Uyghur ethnic group in recent weeks, placing their management under investigation for "harming ethnic unity," the Xinjiang regional Internet office said in a statement.
The investigation comes after the two sites, www.653130.com and www.muzikam.com were reported to the the regional branch of the China National Internet Information Center (CNIIC), government website Tianshanwang reported.
"The two sites ... were found to have illegal content that harmed ethnic unity, with a very harmful effect on society," the report said.
Around the same time, the authorities shuttered the account of a live traffic report on the smartphone chat app WeChat after it sent out a headline about a road accident in the south of the regional capital, Urumqi, Tianwang said.
The headline reported a number of traffic deaths and injuries as if they were people, but they later turned out to be of livestock.
Activists said the authorities are extremely sensitive to any hint of ethnic tension following a string of violent incidents in Xinjiang that have left hundreds dead in recent years.
"My sense is that the authorities are extremely nervous," Anhui-based freedom of speech activist Shen Liangqing told RFA. "They are monitoring and controlling the Internet and chat apps so strictly now."
"They are afraid that [the slightest error] will cause misunderstandings if people read it," Shen said. "But there's no good reason to shut down their WeChat account."
"Everything is so tense and sensitive [for the government]."
'Jumpy as hell'
A Xinjiang resident surnamed Fang agreed.
"The authorities are trying to maintain stability right now, and they're as jumpy as hell," Fang said. "They are really worried about misinformation, but really they're just frightening themselves."
"If you search online, you'll find a lot of similar incidents ... but you need a headline that will catch people's eye," he said. "But headlines like this in Xinjiang terrify people, and they terrify our dear state security police in particular."
The closures come as a U.S.-based computer security company published a report tracing a number of recent attacks on a number of Uyghur and Tibetan websites to a single group of hackers.
According to a seven-month study by Palo Alto Networks, none of the information stolen by the group would be of interest to anyone other than a nation-state.
The majority of attacks we identified targeted Uyghurs or Tibetans or advocates thereof, an article on the PC World website quoted a company spokesman as saying.
But the report said it had found no direct evidence linking the attacks to China.
According to the report, Scarlet Mimic targets victims via email, using infected documents that appear to be legitimate, and on topics the recipient might expect to receive.
The documents then install a Windows backdoor called FakeM, if the user is running that operating system.
The company hopes to force the hackers to switch tactics by writing about their findings, costing them further time and resources, PC World said.
Reported by Qiao Long for RFA's Mandarin Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.