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Residents in the Xinjiang capital of Urumqi shop at a fruit stall. Photo: cnsphoto

Chinese internet users detained over Xinjiang Covid-19 outbreak ‘rumours’

  • 4 people in Yining ordered to serve up to 10 days behind bars for various offences, including ‘inciting opposition’
  • Announcement comes just days after authorities in the prefecture admit failings in access to medical services
Police in China’s far western region of Xinjiang have detained four internet users, accusing them of spreading rumours about an outbreak of Covid-19.

The four were ordered to serve between five and 10 days of administrative detention in Yining, a city in the Ili Kazakh autonomous prefecture, police said in a statement on Sunday.

“[The detainees] spread rumours on the internet, incited antagonistic sentiments, disrupted the order of anti-pandemic measures, [which] resulted in negative social repercussions,” police said.

The statement did not disclose the ethnicity of the four individuals but they all had Han surnames.

Administrative detention is usually ordered for minor offences and does not involve formal charges or a trial. It requires only police approval but the duration is capped at 14 days.

Coronavirus: authorities apologise for medical woes in locked down prefecture

Xinjiang has recorded minor outbreaks of the coronavirus, reporting four new symptomatic local cases and 24 asymptomatic infections on Monday.

Of those, 11 asymptomatic cases were in Yining.

The central government has discouraged citywide lockdowns to contain outbreaks, following the food and medicine shortages seen in Shanghai earlier this year.
There has been no official announcement of such a lockdown in Yining or the prefecture but some Ili residents have taken to Weibo, the Chinese equivalent of Twitter, to complain about being confined, running out of food and supplies, and being unable to access medical care.

While the claims could not be verified independently, the prefecture’s deputy governor, Liu Qinghua, apologised on Friday and admitted failures in access to medical services, saying that “it reflects many shortcomings and weaknesses of the work of the local authorities”.

“The Communist Party committee and government want to express their deepest apology for the disruption of life caused to all ethnicities,” Liu said.

The prefecture’s population includes Han Chinese and members of the Kazakh, Uygur, Hui and Mongol ethnic groups.


Residents in China argue with guard to leave apartment blocks during deadly earthquake

Residents in China argue with guard to leave apartment blocks during deadly earthquake

The four were punished under the 2006 Public Security Administration Punishment Law banning people from “intentionally disturbing public order by spreading any rumour, giving false information about the situation of any risk, epidemic disease or emergency, or by any other means”.

Police said one of the accused, identified only by the surname Zu, spread a rumour of an elderly person hanging himself because of starvation. Zu was given five days of detention.

Zhong, another of the four, spread a rumour that some residents were being “knocked out” by volunteers for shouting, and was ordered to serve 10 days.

An individual surnamed Su “incited opposition among the masses on the internet”, while another, Zhao, “incited residents to [leave their flats and] gather downstairs”. Both were given five days of detention.

“The internet is not outside the law. Yining’s anti-pandemic measures are now at a critical stage. Netizens are asked to jointly maintain the order of cyberspace and not create rumours, believe rumours or popularise rumours,” the police statement said.

Beijing is seeking to keep infections under control ahead of the party’s national congress in Beijing in mid-October.

However, Sun Chunlan, the vice-premier in charge of Covid-19 control, last week ordered local governments to stop imposing additional restrictions or locking down whole areas and instead lock down individual blocks or complexes according to the number of Covid-19 cases detected there.

The country reported 164 new symptomatic local cases on Monday, with 81 concentrated in earthquake-hit Sichuan, 17 in Guangdong and 15 in Beijing. Among the 785 asymptomatic infections, 216 were in Tibet, 136 in Guizhou and 68 in Heilongjiang.