HONG KONG—A retired physics professor and prominent rights activist from the eastern province of Shandong has called on the Chinese government to stop limiting the Internet access of people in the troubled region of Xinjiang.
Former Shandong university professor Sun Wenguang, 75, said the restrictions are equivalent to burning books and smashing historical relics, and make him ashamed on behalf of majority Han Chinese.
"The Internet was not blocked during the Lhasa protest in March 2008," Sun said, referring to weeks of unrest among Tibetans in China ahead of the Olympic Games.
"This policy was implemented only in Xinjiang after the July 5 [unrest]."
Residents of Xinjiang say Internet services are still extremely limited, nine months after deadly ethnic rioting swept through the regional capital, Urumqi, following demonstrations by the mostly Muslim ethnic minority Uyghurs.
Xinjiang was effectively offline for several months after the demonstrations sparked deadly rioting and clashes in July among local Uyghurs, Han Chinese, and armed security forces.
Still difficult to connect
Long-distance phone calls were also restricted, making it hard to get information even about the information freeze.
Recent official news reports have said that full e-mail services and some Web sites 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.
"Ever since July 2009 it has been virtually impossible to access Gmail, Hotmail, Yahoo, or any other e-mail client from within the borders of Xinjiang," Summers, who recently returned to the United States from the region, wrote in a blog post Tuesday.
"Currently only one Web portal, Sina, has been given the privilege to send and receive e-mails, but if you can’t read Chinese you might find it difficult to set up an account," Summers wrote.
Uyghurs outside Xinjiang have reported that none of the popular, independent Uyghur-language sites have re-opened yet, and that some of their staff have been detained by police.
"The government announced that they opened some of the Web sites in Xinjiang," Sun said.
"Most of the reopened the Web sites were in Chinese. Except for some government Web sites, none of the Uyghur Web sites were opened."
Sun said these limitations are evidence that the Internet restrictions specifically target Uyghurs as an ethnic group.
"Over the past nine months, 10 million people have been living blindfolded, deaf, and silent," he said.
"Here exists not only an ethnic segregation, but also a hostility towards technology," Sun said.
"I am ashamed that this kind of backward policy is being implemented in my country in the 21st century."
He warned the government that policies that discriminate against Uyghurs, who have complained of being excluded from most of the benefits of economic development and of continual official interference in their religious practises, are doomed to fail.
"In my view, the Internet blockage is similar to radical groups burning books and demolishing historical relics," he said, in an apparent reference to the political turbulence of the Cultural Revolution (1966-76).
"Maybe this is more backward than that even...The government is asking people in other Chinese cities not to say too much, but it is asking for complete silence from Uyghurs."
He said leadership in Xinjiang and good ethnic relations will continue to run into problems until such policies are lifted.
"Therefore, first of all we should not be trampling on the Uyghur people's economic rights, and secondly we should let them have some degree of self-determination," said Sun, who served time in labor camps after being labeled a "rightist" during the 1950s and a "counterrevolutionary" during the Cultural Revolution.
He has since campaigned vigorously for the abolition of the Chinese gulag and attempted to stage public memorial events for ousted late premier Zhao Ziyang and for those killed in the 1989 military crackdown on Tiananmen Square protesters in Beijing.
Original reporting in Uyghur by Shohret Hoshur. Uyghur service director: Dolkun Kamberi. Translated by Memetjan Jume. Written for the Web in English by Luisetta Mudie. Edited by Sarah Jackson-Han.