China: Uyghur PEN Centre asks foreign news media to help in Xinjiang

The secretary-general of the Uyghur PEN Centre, Kaiser Abdurusul, gave the following interview to Reporters Without Borders last week. To see the original version, published 7 July 2009, please click here.




Reporters Without Borders condemns the control of news and information in the western region of Xinjiang. The Chinese government confirmed today that Internet access has been cut in the region’s capital, Urumqi, to “prevent the violence spreading.” International phone communications have also been cut since 5 July.


The People’s Daily official newspaper reported that the city authorities and the Communist Party municipal committee held a news conference at midday today in Urumqi for 60 foreign news media and 80 national ones. The party’s “relevant department” then escorted the journalists on visits to the scenes of the recent rioting and to hospitals.


Reporters Without Borders asked Kaiser Abdurusul, the secretary-general of the Uyghur PEN Centre, a UK-based association of independent Uyghur writers, about access to information in Xinjiang, which has an ethnic Uyghur majority.

What freedom do the media currently have?


The main reports (photos and videos) that we are getting are coming from tourists and not journalists. The Chinese journalists in Xinjiang work for state media, media that are controlled by the Chinese government. So they relay propaganda and only show the negative side of Uyghur demands. The foreign journalists are completely manipulated by the Communist Party and have access to very little information. Party members accompany them wherever they go.


What’s more, international telephone communications and the Internet have been cut. So it is very hard to send information abroad. Any activity of this kind is monitored. I do not dare to call my relatives for fear of putting them in even greater danger.


What are the information sources that the Uyghur people can rely on?


Almost none. Independent news sources are privately-owned news sources. But it is currently very hard to communicate, there are fewer and fewer news sources, and journalists risk their lives if they dare to cover the riots. All of the Uyghur-language websites and forums have been closed since the start of the demonstrations on 26 June.


As international communications have been cut, calls within the country offer the only way of getting information. The Uyghur community in Beijing, Shanghai and elsewhere within China is relaying information in this manner. That is how the Uyghurs in Xinjiang know what is happing outside the province.


Is the Internet a useful means of communication for organising protests?


The Internet has been disconnected and, if they have access, only a few people know how to use the methods for circumventing online censorship. The Internet is closely monitored in China and Internet users only see censored information. About half of the Uyghurs in Xinjiang used the Internet. The same goes for Urumqi. But Internet usage is closely regulated. In an Internet café for example, they request your ID card and everything you do is monitored. And when you request a personal connection at home, you have to register with the police and sign a statement promising to respect the Chinese connection regulations.


I ask western journalists to try to collect information by all means possible and to help the Uyghur people by ensuring that justice is done through what they report.


Reporters Without Borders said: “We urge the international community to adopt sanctions against China. It is not enough to just ask for democratic rights to be respected. The openness the Chinese government is showing towards the foreign news media should not divert attention from the fact that this concern for transparency is not being applied to Chinese journalists and the Internet. The authorities are cutting this province off from the outside world in order to be able to crack down without being seen.”

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