China Curbs, Blocks Web Sites

Deadly ethnic tensions in northwestern China may pose the biggest challenge yet to the country's vast censorship infrastructure.
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Uyghurs at an Internet cafe in Urumqi, capital of China's northwestern Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, April 1, 2008.
Uyghurs at an Internet cafe in Urumqi, capital of China's northwestern Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, April 1, 2008.

HONG KONG—Authorities in the northwestern Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR) have blocked access to certain key government Web sites around the region, which has been rocked in recent days by ethnic violence.

The Web sites of the regional government and all regional state-run media were inaccessible from outside Xinjiang on Wednesday.

Municipal Web sites and official radio, television stations, and newspapers in Urumqi, Kashgar, Ili, and Hotan cities were also offline. Shache and Aksu city governments and media were also unavailable.

China’s net police have also blocked access by Chinese netizens to popular micro-blogging platform Twitter and similar sites, with limited success.

Foreign journalists on the ground in Urumqi said mobile phone networks had also been affected by the security clampdown, with some able to send updates only via Twitter using the Web, instead of by text message as is usually possible.

Exiled Uyghur leader Rebiya Kadeer said the government was trying to prevent further information about the recent unrest from spreading amid great tension.

YouTube blocked

“The Chinese government is now blocking information by shutting down all cell phone networks and radio stations,” Kadeer said.

“The current situation is very dangerous.”

Twitter and video-sharing site YouTube were blocked by Tuesday afternoon.

Posts on forums and bulletin boards about the riots were deleted immediately, although comments made on old posts related to Xinjiang lasted somewhat longer, netizens said.

Guangdong-based cyber commentator Bei Feng said he didn’t think the government’s measures would be entirely successful, especially in Xinjiang.

“From a technical point of view, Twitter is hard to block. Netizens can outwit the blockade by using the cyber technique called ‘wall-scaling,’” Bei Feng said.

“In fact, online browsers can now obtain plenty of information from both domestic and foreign sources. For instance, the Associated Press reported the latest demonstration by about 300 people in the southern Xinjiang city of Kashgar. Chinese netizens got this information right away,” he said.

Beijing-based Tibetan writer Woeser agreed, saying that many netizens in China could now access information more easily.

“In China, people can now use a skill online called ‘wall-scaling,’” Woeser said. “Through proxy servers, we can see overseas Web sites. Bloggers on large Chinese Web sites carry instant opinions from the people,” she said.

Original reporting in Mandarin by Tang Qiwei and He Ping, and by RFA’s Uyghur and Cantonese services. Mandarin service director: Jennifer Chou. Uyghur service director: Dolkun Kamberi. Cantonese service director: Shiny Li. Translated by Chen Ping. Written for the Web in English by Luisetta Mudie. Edited by Sarah Jackson-Han.





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