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Beijing backs off from filtering tool; Uighur protests blamed on Internet

China has indefinitely postponed the rollout of its much criticised Internet filtering tool, say the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) and news reports.

The Chinese government has backed away from a "hastily conceived directive" that all new PCs should carry filtering software from 1 July, allegedly to allow overseas PC vendors extra time to prepare for the law, says CPJ. No new deadline has been given.

But Internet activists and bloggers who had opposed the software as intrusive and unsafe also took credit for the rollback.

In May, the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology told PC vendors that they had six weeks to include the filtering software Green Dam on all news systems sold in China, which would be paid for by public funds in the first year.

Green Dam, which has already been installed on many school computers in China, was ostensibly conceived to shield children from harmful content such as pornography. But opponents of the measure argued that the software could be used to filter other types of stories and could tighten China's control of the Internet.

The move drew criticism from many IFEX members and other rights groups. A group of Chinese citizens opposed to the law were planning to conduct a one-day boycott of the Internet in protest.

CPJ points out a potential future avenue for campaigning: the U.S. Commerce Department voiced concern that the directive violated international trade rules.

Meanwhile, the Chinese authorities are accusing foreign activists of using the Internet to incite violent protests this week in Xinjiang, report the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), Reporters Without Borders (RSF) and Voice of America (VOA).

The Uighurs, a mostly Muslim ethnic group with cultural and linguistic ties to Central Asia who have long desired autonomy from Beijing, have used the Internet to rapidly spread images from what they say was a provocative government crackdown on a peaceful demonstration. Chinese authorities say 156 people died on 5 July when Uighurs took to the streets to protest a brawl between Han Chinese and Uighurs in Guangdong last month.

At a news conference on 6 July, Xinjiang's police chief Liu Yaohua singled out the Internet, describing it as the main medium that foreigners use to communicate with Uighurs in China, reports VOA.

The government has removed all Internet references to the protest, and blocked social networking sites and disabled the Twitter messaging system, reports RSF. The authorities claim the interruption was done legally, and is necessary to maintain social stability.

Interestingly, the mainstream Chinese media has "embraced images" of the clashes, which are working to stoke the Han majority's outrage against the Uighur protesters, says CPJ.

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