Greg Fay, Manager, Uyghur Human Rights Project
The theme for Blog Action Day on October 16, 2013 is human rights. The Uyghur Human Rights Project, a Washington, DC-based NGO, has made the subject of bloggers a major focus of our human rights campaigning.
For the Uyghur people, blogging and other forms of online expression have been the target of a major crackdown by the Chinese government. Throughout China, bloggers have been targeted, particularly since a government crackdown on online activity this year that was stepped up in August. In a New York Times Op Ed today, Chinese writer Murong Xuecun described the effect of this crackdown as “chilling,” particularly for expression of political opinions in China.
But whereas Murong Xuecun describes a cooling of political speech, Uyghurs face punishment for any kind of expression online. UHRP Director Alim Seytoff stated last week, “While in eastern China, authorities have restricted online criticism of the party, in East Turkestan authorities have targeted Uyghurs who tried to expose recent extrajudicial killings of Uyghurs or expressed criticism of China’s religious crackdowns, bilingual language implementation and Han immigration policies.”
UHRP reported last week that police in East Turkestan had investigated 256 people for “spreading destabilizing rumors” and 139 people for spreading religious rumors. Of them, 110 people were detained. Several workers for the website Uyghur Online were also recently detained and harassed. These are only the latest in a string of arrests and sentences of Uyghurs for their online expression in the past several months.
The 2013 crackdown on Uyghurs’ online expression is part of a larger campaign to silence Uyghur voices online. In 2009, after ethnic unrest in the regional capital of Urumchi, the government’s first response was to black out the Internet. It was not restored “in full” for over ten months, though the Internet that returned contained not only the normal restrictions of China’s “Great Firewall,” but also a diminished roll call of Uyghur websites. In 2009, dozens of Uyghur webmasters and bloggers were imprisoned, and many major Uyghur websites were shut down. The countless Uyghur blogs hosted on those sites were dismantled, and online voices silenced.
On Blog Action Day, the Uyghur Human Rights Project remembers once active Uyghur websites that have been dismantled. Using the Internet Archive web archiving tool, which takes online “snapshots” of the entire Internet, we can glance at their past existences: Xabnam, Diyarim, Salkin, Uzonline, and Orkhun. The websites share similar charts of online activity: robust from the time recording started until July 2009, when activity dropped off entirely.
We call attention to Uyghur bloggers and webmasters currently imprisoned for their online expression: Gulmire Imin, Mehbube Ablesh, Gheyret Niyaz, Dilshat Perhat, Nijat Azat, Tursunjan Hezim, and Nureli Obul, whose whereabouts are unconfirmed since his scheduled release last year. The list is far from exhaustive. Too many innocent Uyghurs have been taken as prisoners of conscience simply for expressing their opinion or supporting a blog or website enabling others to do so. On Blog Action Day, we recall not only the potential of blogging to promote expression, but also the threat this poses to China’s authoritarian regime.