Chinese Media Manipulation Feeds Tensions in Xinjiang
Freedom House calls upon government-controlled media in China to stop contributing to the tensions fueling deadly clashes between minority Uighurs and the ruling Han Chinese. News reports that brand Uighur citizens "terrorists" and suggest a wider conspiracy – part of a broader government attempt to manage coverage of the unrest – could stoke ethnic grievances far beyond the Xinjiang region.
Clashes in Xinjiang's capital Urumqi left 156 people dead and 1,000 wounded Sunday, according to official figures, the only available source of information. Authorities arrested hundreds of people, many of whose whereabouts or condition are unknown. The figures fail to mention the ethnicity of those killed or arrested or what caused the initially peaceful protests by Uighurs to turn violent.
Censorship is half of the government's two-part approach to controlling the news out of Xinjiang. Authorities are blocking internet access and phone calls to Urumqi, purging search engines of unapproved references to the violence and shutting down Twitter. Although authorities have taken international media on supervised tours and set up a media center, independent verification of what occurred on Sunday remains impossible.
The government is also promoting a one-sided version of events, which suggests the Uighur protests were uniformly violent and pre-meditated. This includes accusations from Chinese officials that exiled Uighur activist Rebiya Kadeer directed violence from abroad. State-controlled media has repeatedly broadcast graphic images of conflict that appear to be reinforcing fears among Han citizens.
"China’s leadership should act immediately to ease tensions between Uighurs and Han Chinese throughout the country, including Xinjiang," said Jennifer Windsor, Freedom House executive director. "Putting a stop to distorted coverage in state-controlled media is essential to prevent further violence and create a space for these communities to resolve their legitimate and longstanding grievances."
The Uighurs protested on Sunday to voice frustration that the government was not properly investigating the deaths of Uighur factory workers who were killed last month in a brawl with Han Chinese in the southern city of Shaoguan. State media said two Uighur workers were killed, although many Uighurs believe the death count was higher.
China increased its repression of Uighurs in 2008, according to Freedom in the World, Freedom House's annual survey of political rights and civil liberties. Cases of suspicious deaths while in custody, torture, execution and arrests continued throughout the year. In addition, Uighurs were forced to violate the basic tenets of their faith during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan and were prevented from travelling by airplane in the period surrounding the Beijing Olympics.
China is ranked Not Free in the 2009 edition of Freedom in the World, Freedom House’s annual survey of political rights and civil liberties and in the 2009 version of Freedom of the Press.
Freedom in the World 2009: China
Freedom of the Press 2009: China
Undermining Democracy: China
Freedom on the Net: China
Freedom House, an independent nongovernmental organization that supports the expansion of freedom in the world, has been monitoring political rights and civil liberties in China since 1972.
Freedom House is an independent watchdog organization that supports democratic change, monitors the status of freedom around the world, and advocates for democracy and human rights.