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Zhou Yongkang

Three held for 'harmful' SMS after lifting of ban

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 28 January, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 28 January, 2010, 12:00am

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Three Xinjiang residents have been arrested or penalised for spreading 'harmful information' using text messages, including one message that police said incited separatism in the restive region.

Residents of the Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region were shut off from the outside world with bans on international calls, access to the internet and text messaging after the riots on July 5, which killed at least 197 people and injured up to 2,000. Only since late last month have such services been gradually resuming.

According to the region's official news portal, Tianshan Net, at least three Xinjiang residents were arrested in the past 11 days. The full names of the arrested individuals were not provided, but from their surnames, none appeared to be Uygurs, the largest ethnic group in the region.

The portal reported three incidents:

On January 17, a resident surnamed Ma sent a message containing separatist content to several mobile phones, and he continued doing so despite warning messages from his telecoms company. The police arrested him after receiving complaints from the public.

On January 18, a university student surnamed Zhou was arrested for spreading 'alarming information' by SMS, 'causing terror'. Police gave him an administrative warning and let him go.

On January 20, a resident surnamed An spread rumours by SMS and disrupted to public order. Police gave him an unspecified administrative penalty.

It appears that, in all three cases, police were alerted by public complaints and responded according to the country's long-standing Criminal Law and the Public Order Administration and Penalty Law. Further details were sketchy.

Xinjiang passed a new regional regulation on promoting ethnic solidarity last month, the first of its kind in the country.

The regulation made spreading any information that could incite ethnic division a potential crime, but it was not applied to the January 17 arrest.

Hong Kong-based Chinese law Professor Ong Yew-kim said the three cases showed a tightening of control over SMS content in Xinjiang, which was foreseeable given the authorities' claims that text messages from abroad played a big role in inciting the Uygur rioters on July 5.

'There had been very few reports in the past on people being caught purely on the basis of text messages,' said Ong, adding that even in those cases, the messages were mostly of a pornographic nature.

The central government will hold the first Xinjiang Work Symposium to set guidelines for the development and stability of the restive region, China Central Television reported last night.

The decision was made by President Hu Jintao at a recent meeting and announced on Tuesday by Politburo Standing Committee member Zhou Yongkang .

The announcement of the Xinjiang Work Symposium - a high-level meeting expected to be attended by the entire Politburo Standing Committee - follows a central government work symposium on Tibet this month.

The Communist Party has held five such meetings on Tibet in the past 60 years.

The most recent meeting said the government would pump money not only into Tibet, but in neighbouring provinces, to ensure stability.

Additional reporting by Kristine Kwok