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Keeping Receipts: Lessons on Civic Engagement in Autocratic States from Kazakh Advocacy for Xinjiang Open Access Deposited

How do civil society actors in authoritarian states use the internet to mobilize and advocate for rights claims? The internet has changed the patterns of political com- munication for civil society actors, but the range of tactics used in autocracies remains undertheorized. In this paper, I analyze the activities of Atajurt Eriktileri, a group that petitions the Kazakhstani government on behalf of co-ethnics detained in Xinjiang, China. Empirically, I complement five semi-structured interviews with an interpretive analysis of 3,272 petition videos (an original dataset) posted to Atajurt’s YouTube chan- nel. I identify four visual–discursive patterns and three scripts that characterize the petitions, which speak to Atajurt’s strategy of atomized collective action; this approach helps avoid the repression that comes with more traditional forms of mass mobiliza- tion. The hypervisibility of Atajurt’s social media presence challenges the dominant literature on civil society and resistance in authoritarian regimes that emphasizes hid- den forms of contention.

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  • 22142290-12340017
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