Xinjiang Internet ‘Still Limited’

Official communication curbs remain in northwestern China.

Uyghur-Internet-305.jpg Uyghurs at an Internet cafe in Urumqi, capital of China's northwestern Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, April 1, 2008.

HONG KONG—Residents of China’s northwestern region of Xinjiang say Internet services are still extremely limited, eight months after deadly ethnic rioting swept through the regional capital, Urumqi.

“E-mail is slowly getting back to normal now,” one resident said.

“It has only just begun within the borders of Xinjiang.”

Xinjiang, home to the mostly Muslim Uyghur ethnic group, has been effectively offline since demonstrations sparked deadly rioting and clashes in July among local Uyghurs, Han Chinese, and armed security forces, according to residents and bloggers.

Long-distance phone calls have also been restricted, making it hard to get information even about the information freeze.

Recent official news reports have said that full e-mail services have been restored to the region.

But Xinjiang-based blogger Josh Summers, writing on the “Far West of China” blog, said the business of actually sending an e-mail is hampered by the fact that only one e-mail service is available to the region’s residents.

While a 20-message daily limit on text messaging has now been lifted, and attachments may now be sent and received via e-mail, formidable obstacles still remain to ordinary people wishing to communicate online, he said.

Curbs remain

E-mails sent from within the region are currently limited to those coming from Web mail accounts.

Users are still currently unable to access their Hotmail, Gmail, Yahoo, or other Web-based e-mail accounts, Summers wrote in a blog post responding to a recent report by Agence France-Presse on the restoration of e-mail in Xinjiang.

“New users must create an account on (an action which can be performed only in the Chinese language), at which point they can then send and receive e-mails,” Summers wrote.

But users will no longer have access to their address books, making it hard to restore previous levels of connectivity with the outside world.

“How many of your friends' and family e-mail addresses can you recite from memory?” he wrote.

“Right now everyone in Xinjiang who wants to send e-mails must do so from memory. Everything that was once stored online—names, e-mail addresses, QQ [a microblogging service] numbers—it’s all inaccessible.”

Widespread lack of information about which services are available is also preventing people from trying to use the Internet, he said.

Impact waning

A second Urumqi resident said people have begun to get accustomed to being cut off from the outside world.

“At first it had a huge impact, but now we’re getting used to it,” the resident said.

“People don’t get as bored and frustrated as they did when [the controls] first started,” he added.

Beijing-based National Minorities University professor Ilham Tohti, whose Web site UighurBiz has been repeatedly taken offline by the authorities, said the sites now available to netizens in Xinjiang are unlikely to be those that ethnic minority Uyghurs want to visit.

“It doesn’t help Uyghurs much to open these few Web sites up,” he said.

“They haven’t opened up any of the Web sites that Uyghurs like to visit, which are the pretty comprehensive, portal-type Web sites. They have content like social news, economic news, international news, and also literary and history-related Web sites.”

He said that while some Uyghur-language Web sites have now been made available, their content is extremely limited.

Repeated calls to the Xinjiang regional government news office went unanswered during office hours Monday.

Original reporting in Cantonese by Grace Kei Lai-see. Cantonese service director: Shiny Li. Translated and written for the Web in English by Luisetta Mudie. Edited by Sarah Jackson-Han.

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