People in the Xinjiang region of China reportedly had their phone service cut off after using foreign messaging apps and other software.

The Xinjiang region, known for its large community of Muslims, is reportedly inviting people to head over to a police station to restore their phone service after it was being cut off.

The news comes from the New York Times (NYT), which reports that the Chinese government is shutting down phone service for Xinjiang residents who download and use software that enables them to bypass Internet filters. China already had a rigorous strategy when it comes to electronic surveillance specifically in its western region, and these additional measures now take it to the next level.

According to the NYT report, following the terrorist attacks that shook France last week, the local police in Xinjiang started to cut the mobile service of those who downloaded foreign messaging services and other software. The NYT cites five people who were reportedly affected by this measure.

The NYT did not disclose the identity of its sources because the people are concerned that local security forces may punish them for revealing the matter to foreign media. The five people affected said they were told to go to a local police station if they want to get their service restored.

"Due to police notice, we will shut down your cellphone number within the next two hours in accordance with the law," warned a text message one of the people received. "If you have any questions, please consult the cyberpolice affiliated with the police station in your vicinity as soon as possible."

That person, who lives in Urumqi (regional capital), said that upon calling the police she learned that service suspensions targeted individuals who didn't link their identification to their account, used Virtual Private Networks (VPNs) to evade the Great Firewall of Internet filters in China, or downloaded foreign messaging services such as Telegram or WhatsApp.

Using VPNs in China is not as uncommon a practice as the Chinese government would want. Considering that Google and its services, for instance, are banned in China, many rely on VPNs to be able to access Gmail, Google Maps and others such.

On the other hand, cracking down on the Xinjiang region raises some other concerns. Since WhatsApp is not blocked in China, the move to cut off phone services raises speculation that this whole strategy actually targets the Muslim community living in Xinjiang. The Muslim residents in the region have been facing tensioned relationships with the government for a good while now.

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