Chinese authorities have cracked down on social media in Inner Mongolia after days of unrest that forced the government to tighten security in the autonomous region. Information sources such as QQ instant messenger, internet chatting and text messaging have been recognized as playing a major role in organizing large-scale protests in the region and have therefore almost completely closed down, the Southern Mongolian Human Rights Information Centre (SMHRIC) reported.
The demonstrations by ethnic Mongolians began on 10 May when a local herder was run over by a truck driven by a member of China’s dominant Han ethnic group. Since then, the riot police are reported to have been patrolling some of the biggest cities including, Tongliao, Ulaanhad and the capital Hohhot. Amnesty International described the situation in the region as “martial law.”
To keep the news of the unrest from spreading, the internet has been disrupted and in some parts even shut down, the Associated Press (AP) wrote.
“We lost access to the internet,” the news agency quoted a waitress at the Laozhuancun restaurant in Chifeng as saying. “There’s no point in going to the internet cafes since they have suspended business because the internet is down there too.”
Similarly, the authorities in Egypt shut down its internet service in January in order to prevent the further dissemination of pro-democratic viewpoints. The blackout took place hours before the then largest planned protests.
Censoring the social media has been a common measure to stifle protest and destabilize the revolutionaries during the recent uprisings in the Middle East.
Hundreds of Facebook pages and Twitter accounts have been created to publicize the unrest in Syria. In response, however, the country’s authorities last week reportedly started cracking down on protesters’ use of social media by using tools to interrupt and block such channels. The decision by the Syrian government to lift a four-year ban on Facebook in February was originally seen as a sign of increasing openness, but many activists believe that this may have been a measure taken to track revolutionary activity more easily.
An article in the New York Times dated 22 May made clear, however, that regardless of the restrictions on the online information services, protesters are still able to communicate their ideas. Facebook profiles are often created under false names, and passwords are shared among several people in order to ensure access to the accounts.
The social media in Pakistan are also currently at risk. On 13 May, the Lahore High Court in Pakistan ruled that Facebook and a number of other websites were in violation of the country’s blasphemy laws and should be banned, Radio France International reported.
The ruling followed a development from May 2010 when a group of people decided to put up a Facebook page called “Everybody Draw Mohammed Day” as an expression of free speech.
“That incense[d] a lot of people, and especially in Pakistan they take these issues very seriously,” said Grady Johnson of the Association for Progressive Communications’ (APC) ‘Internet Rights are Human Rights’ campaign.
Last year, websites like Facebook, YouTube and several more were shut down from 19 May until the end of the month. This time, however, the issue seems to be more serious, Johnson explained. The court has ruled and even though there are challenges to the decision, an implementation of the ban is the next expected step.
“Social networks are very much in danger in Pakistan right now,” Johnson summed up. And so is freedom of expression, as social media tend to be one of its main sources.