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The Strange Death of the Uyghur Internet News Jani

The Strange Death of the Uyghur Internet

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Ekpar Asat, founder of one of the most popular Uyghur-language websites, started his career as many tech entrepreneurs do: in 2007, he turned his college project into a successful news site and forum called Bagdax. .

On his office wall were pictures of his role models Mark Zuckerberg, Barack Obama and Jack Ma. As a minor celebrity in the western Chinese region of Xinjiang, Asat, also known as Mr Big Dicks, was invited to provincial government events and the offices of China’s tech giants. Even if the platform had to comply with China’s strict censorship laws — at one point, four police officers were tasked with monitoring it — its base quickly grew to 100,000 users.

However, in early 2016, after returning from a US State Department-sponsored business leadership program, Asat was included in a mass detention campaign, along with one million members of the Uighur and other Turkic minorities.

Within a year, Bagdax and other popular Uighur websites—such as Misranim, Bozqir, and Ana Tuprak—stopped updating permanently. And they weren’t alone. As Beijing’s crackdown unfolded in the Xinjiang region, the majority of independent Uyghur-run websites ceased to exist, according to local tech industry insiders and academics who monitor the online Uyghur-language sphere. Tracing.

“It’s like erasing the life work of thousands and thousands of people in their own communities to build something,” says Darren Byler, assistant professor of international studies at Simon Fraser University in Vancouver and author of several books on Chinese medicine. has a future.” Uighur.

Many of the people behind the websites have also disappeared into China’s concentration camp system. According to members of the minority living abroad, developers, computer scientists, and IT experts—especially those working on Uyghur-language products—have been detained.

The arrests are part of a crackdown on China’s Muslim-majority region, which has been rocked by several terrorist attacks over the past two decades. Human rights groups have accused the Chinese government of mass surveillance, forced labor and eradicating ethnic minority culture. Beijing claims the camps are vocational job training and re-education centers to combat extremism.

Akper Asat’s sister Rehan Asat says the ban can be seen as an attack on the Uyghur language and culture, and that the Chinese government’s repression has often targeted the region’s best and brightest.

“Why would a prominent tech entrepreneur need to retrain? What kind of skills does he need?” she says. The Public Security Bureau in Urumqi, the capital of the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, did not return phone calls.

Once a major outpost on the Central Asian Silk Road, Urumqi is no Silicon Valley. Still, by 2014 a small cluster of tech companies had begun to form just south of its Grand Bazaar. But the opening was short-lived, and in 2016 repression was in full swing. “Our region has literally become a prison without walls,” says Abdul Rahim Dewalt, founder of Balkan, 30 apps, a line of hardware, and the first online Uyghur bookstore. DeWalt decided to leave Xinjiang, following a wave of arrests, including the manager of Balkan, who was later sentenced to 25 years in prison. After closing down his company, Dewalt is now living in Turkey and working on a doctorate in history.

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