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The Strange Death of the Uyghur Internet

by Ronaldo Derric
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Making a living as a programmer has also become difficult, said the former Bilkan developer, who asked to remain anonymous out of concern for his family’s safety. In 2016, the government began requiring websites to establish Communist Party branches or be overseen by Communist Party members, making it difficult to avoid blacklisting.

The authorities also compile lists of blocked websites from Google and other Western social media platforms to GitHub and Stack Overflow, popular developer tool platforms that remain available to programmers in other parts of China. Expanded.

Abduweli Ayup, a language activist, said the Uyghur IT sector, especially website owners, continue to be targeted because of the influence these individuals have on society. Dozens of people working in technology. “They are the mainstay of the economy, and after that mainstay disappears, people become poorer,” says Ayup.

Xinjiang’s digital erasure is just the latest blow to its online sector. After riots erupted in Urumqi in 2009, China hit back with a wave of internet shutdowns and arrests of bloggers and webmasters. The advocacy group Uyghur Human Rights Project estimates that more than 80% of his Uyghur websites have not been restored after being shut down.

But despite regular minor internet outages in the region, Uyghur internet was booming. For the Uyghur community, these websites have been a place to rediscover Islamic religious practices and discuss hot issues such as homophobia, transgender issues, and sexism. Drexel University, Philadelphia More importantly, the internet has helped Uyghurs create an image of themselves that differs from that provided by China’s state-run media, according to Associate Professor Rebecca Crosey of . “Her space online, where she can talk about issues that are relevant to her, gives her the ability to have a way of thinking about herself as a unified collective,” she says. “Without it, they are scattered.”

Uyghurs in Xinjiang are now using domestic platforms and apps created by Chinese tech giants. WeChat still hosts Uighur accounts, but the platform is known for its censorship system.

However, some Uyghurs have small cracks in the walls through which they communicate and express themselves. People hold up message signs during video calls for fear that the conversation will be monitored. Young people are switching conversations to gaming apps.

On Douyin, a Chinese version of TikTok owned by ByteDance, Uyghurs are secretly filming scenes in Xinjiang, not unlike national propaganda videos that show smiling dancers in traditional robes. Some have even filmed themselves crying looking at photos of their loved ones. Others captured orphanages with detained Uyghur children and those being put on buses. Information is stripped from the clip and the conclusion is left to the viewer.

Beiler says Chinese authorities have recently relaxed some restrictions on the Uyghur language. In late 2019, Beijing announced that all those detained in China’s vocational training centers had “graduated,” but scaled back some of the more visible signs of a high-tech police state.

However, Uyghurs abroad say many of their friends and relatives are still in camps or are serving arbitrary prison sentences. Ekpar Asat was found guilty of inciting ethnic hatred and discrimination and he was sentenced to 15 years in prison. And while parts of the Uyghur Internet have been archived for future digital archaeology, much of it is gone forever. “It just went away overnight, and there’s little you can do to recover that information,” he says Byler.

This article originally appeared in the May/June 2022 issue of WIRED UK Magazine.

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