China has shut down mobile phone service for residents in the territory of Xinjiang whom are using certain tools the government fears could be used to orchestrate terrorist attacks or communicate with accomplices overseas.
Last week, Xinjiang police began cutting service for people who’ve downloaded popular messaging apps. such as WhatsApp and Telegram, as well as residents who use Virtual Private Networks (VPNs) and other tools to mask their locations and access banned websites such as Facebook and Twitter.
A resident who spoke with the New York Times also said service was blocked for people who have not linked their identification to their mobile phone numbers. This action is required of all residents in China under the Real-Name Registration policy which took effect in September.
People affected by the shutdown are notified via text message and told to consult the “cyber police” at their local police stations.
China has been vamping up security and censorship since the terrorist attacks in Paris, as well recent instances of Islamist violence which have claimed the lives of Chinese nationals.
Beijing has vowed to destroy all homegrown terrorists in Xinjiang. Last week, state media reported that 28 terrorists “under the command of a foreign extremist group” were killed during a 56-day raid in Xinjiang.
The far-west region of Xinjiang is home to about 10 million separatists from the Muslim Uyghur ethnic group. In 2009, China shut down the Internet in Xinjaing for nearly six months following riots and clashes between Uyghurs and Han Chinese.
While some support the government’s measures, others fear the situation in Xinjaing could be used to build a case for censoring phone service throughout the country.
Tech analysts estimate that about 90 million people use VPNs to infiltrate China’s Great Firewall — a sophisticated system the country uses to censor the Internet. Moreover, WhatsApp has an estimated 23 million users even though it’s not as popular as other messaging apps.