CHINA BLOCKS WHATSAPP, BROADENING ONLINE CENSORSHIP

27 Sep 2017/Wednesday   

China has largely blocked the WhatsApp messaging app, the latest move by Beijing to step up surveillance ahead of a big Communist Party gathering next month.

The disabling in mainland China of the Facebook-owned app is a setback for the social media giant, whose chief executive, Mark Zuckerberg, has been pushing to re-enter the Chinese market, and has been studying the Chinese language intensively. WhatsApp was the last of Facebook products to still be available in mainland China; the company’s main social media service has been blocked in China since 2009, and its Instagram image-sharing app is also unavailable.

The blocking of WhatsApp text messages suggests that China’s censors may have developed specialized software to interfere with  messages, which rely on an encryption technology that is used by few services other than WhatsApp                       

Chinese authorities have a history of mostly, but not entirely, blocking internet services, as well as slowing them down so much that they become useless. The censorship has prompted many in China to switch to communications methods that function smoothly and quickly but that are easily monitored by the Chinese authorities, like the WeChat app of the Chinese internet company Tencent, which is based in Shenzhen.

CHINA IMPOSES SELF RESTRICTION ON WeChat GROUPS

China is finding it difficult to control the dissidence on its Government controlled Social Media Platform called WeChat, equivalent of WhatsApp, having 662 million Chinese mobile users. Tencent’s WeChat, evolved from instant messaging to become true social networks of China by adding news feeds, photo sharing and other services. Anyone can create a group, usually of as many as 500 people, to share pictures, voice chats and links to websites.

There have been instances where the users had openly displayed their anguish on policies of Chinese Government. Recently Wu Rongrong an activist of “Feminist Five” was arrested and detained for a month by Beijing police over a Social Media Campaign against sexual harassment. The case triggered an international outcry and was seen as part of a widening campaign by the Chinese government to squash civil society in Social Media particularly WeChat.

To curb the growing tendency Chinese Regulators made creators of online groups responsible for managing information within their forums and the behaviour of members. While these regulations don’t take effect until October, authorities have jumped into action by disciplining 40 people in one group for spreading petition letters while arresting a man who complained about police raids, according to reports in official Chinese media.

Weibo, China’s equivalent of Twitter, went through similar tightening a few years ago when users were required to reveal their real identities and opinion leaders were arrested for comments. Qiao Mu, a former journalism professor at Beijing Foreign Studies University who recently migrated to the US, had four personal WeChat accounts and 16 public ones deleted without his consent.

“Wechat groups scared the Communist party because it’s the simplest way to mobilise and organise a group of people,” Qiao said. “The new rule is an upgrade, as they want to hush people and enforce self-censorship. They want to avoid mass incidents and prevent crises before they emerge.” Chinese authorities are coming down very heavily on the users expressing opinion against the government especially before the 19th National Congress of Communist Party of China, being held in October this year.

CHINESE UYGHUR MUSLIMS HOUNDED IN EGYPT

Since beginning of July , scores of Chinese students from Al-Azhar University, Cairo – all of them Uyghurs from China’s northwest Xinjiang province – have been arrested by the Egyptian police. Those who managed to escape the raids are hiding in the capital or trying to leave the country, according to Sweden Uyghur Education Union President Nijat Turghun. All are afraid of being expelled to China, where they will be at risk of arbitrary detentions and torture.
“Many of their families in Xinjiang were visited by Chinese authorities a few weeks ago. There were pressures; veiled threats were made to force them to come home and then the Egyptian police started raiding restaurants and residences of Uyghurs studying at Al-Azhar. Some have managed to escape, but we expect most to be deported,” said Ma, a 28-year-old Chinese Muslim from Linxia, in the province of Gansu. All are afraid of being expelled to China, where they will be at risk of arbitrary detentions and torture.
Al-Azhar University has seen a growing influx of Chinese students over the recent years. As religious restrictions are increasing in China, several Chinese Muslims have found Cairo a place where they could engage in religious practices in a relatively friendly environment. But with China’s economic resurgence – the country is now one of Egypt’s largest economic partners – Egyptians find themselves increasingly torn between their desire to remain faithful to their religion, and their willingness to secure their share of China’s economic progress.

CHINA BANS UYGHUR LANGUAGE IN XINJIANG SCHOOLS

Chinese education authorities in northwest China’s Xinjiang region has banned the use of the Uyghur language at all education levels up to and including secondary schools, collective activities, public activities and management work of the education system in favor of Mandarin Chinese in order to strengthen elementary and middle/high school bilingual education. While Beijing has attempted to implement a “bilingual” system in Xinjiang’s schools over the past decade. The ethnic minorities condemned that the system is monolingual and rejects it as part of a bid to eliminate their mother tongue and increase their adaptation into Han Chinese culture.