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Husein Dzhelil standing in front of the Canadian Parliament buildings, Ottawa, Ontario, May2005.
 
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Media Report Xinjiang and Tehran Uprisings Differently Chinese regime succeeds in suppressing information
Epoch Times

By Ethan Epstein

The June uprising in Iran and the July Uyghur uprising in Xinjiang, western China, featured a number of striking similarities. In both cases, an unelected, undemocratic government brutally suppressed demonstrators addressing legitimate grievances, killing dozens of unarmed civilians in the process. Now, some months later, the cases are coming to the same appalling conclusion: Tehran and Beijing are carrying out executions of those accused of organizing the demonstrations.

While these two cases are startlingly similar, the American media reaction to them has been anything but. In June, as Tehran exploded, the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Wall Street Journal wrote a combined 109 stories about the Iranian violence, many of those running on the front page. The Xinjiang uprising, on the other hand, received only 59 mentions in the four dailies in July.

This disparity was not confined to the traditional press: Andrew Sullivan’s popular Atlantic blog became a hub of sorts for information on the Iranian uprising, and the Huffington Post covered the story with a fervor typically reserved for celebrity bikini photos. Neither site had much of anything to say about the slaughter of the Uyghurs.

I discovered this firsthand, as well; I was living and working in Shanghai as a reporter when the Uyghur uprising occurred, and I was unable find an American editor interested in covering the rioting. Twitter feeds from Tehran, however, were seen as legitimate, worthy journalism. Now, with the executions proceeding apace, the same disparity is evident.

There are a number of reasons for the differences in coverage. With Americans greatly concerned about the possibility of Iran acquiring nuclear weapons, the press feels a responsibility to put a focus on that country and the way its government conducts itself. What’s more, the results of the Iranian election that spurred the rioting were thought to have implications for Iran’s nuclear program.

On the other hand, rightly or wrongly, American fears of China’s military ambitions have been quelled over the years, as Beijing pursues what it claims to be a “peaceful rise.”

Further, the Iran uprising occurred in such a way as to allow Americans to feel as though they were actively supporting the resistance. By organizing and disseminating information about the rioting on the social networking website Twitter, many Americans found that they could lend a hand—or a mouse-click—on the side of Iranian liberalism and democracy.

The Uyghurs, living in a far less technologically advanced area than Tehran, did not have this widespread access to these resources. Furthermore, on the day the rioting started, Twitter and Facebook were blocked in China, and remained so for the duration of the disturbances.

Also, China does not fit into the simple good versus evil template that made the Iranian uprising so compelling. China, after all, is a contradictory place. Much laudable progress had been made there in recent decades in lifting millions out of poverty, and fomenting notions of private property. However, individual civil rights are still severely restricted, and little to no democratic reforms have been made. (Indeed, democracy is far less developed in China than it is in Iran.)

The Uyghur incident, moreover, shows that Beijing is still wont to unleash military might on unarmed civilians. The Iranian government, unlike the Chinese, can point to no legitimate achievements. The Manichean story of repressive Mullahs versus liberal students undeniably makes for a compelling story.

Perversely, the fact that China is a more thoroughly repressive state than Iran may have served to forestall coverage of the Uyghur uprising. Not only was social media blocked, but foreign journalists were banned from entering Xinjiang province, as well. Tourism in that part of the country, already heavily restricted, was stopped altogether. The channels through which news regarding the Iranian uprising was disseminated, therefore, were unavailable in China.

This bodes poorly for the cause of liberals in both Iran and China: Beijing will note its success in repressing information about its internal affairs, and Tehran, facing a cavalcade of international condemnation for its conduct, may seek to duplicate China’s approach.

The great attention that the American press and people paid to the Iran uprising was a laudable example of internationalism and solidarity. Here’s hoping that the borders of American concern continue to grow, with our without the aid of Twitter.

Ethan Epstein is a writer in Portland, Oregon
 
 
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