For immediate release
June 19, 2012, 6:15 pm EST
Contact: Uyghur American Association +1 (202) 478 1920
An official Chinese media report published on June 19 regarding a notice of impending house-to-house searches in a neighborhood of Hotan reinforces the view that Chinese authorities are carrying out such searches in violation of Uyghurs’ religious freedom and other rights. While apparently intended to convince readers of the just nature of the Hotan checks, the Global Times piece fails to deliver.
An anonymous employee of the Gujanbagh neighborhood committee who was cited by the Global Times stated, “We are mainly concerned about illegal activities such as Koran teaching.” Article 36 of the Chinese Constitution states that Chinese citizens “enjoy freedom of religious belief,” and that the state may not discriminate against citizens who believe in any religion. However, under Chinese law, instruction on the tenets of the Koran is viewed as illegal if it is provided by someone who was not selected by the government. Chinese law also forbids the study of the Koran by minors. These restrictions are tremendously destructive to the maintenance of Uyghur culture, which is underpinned by the Islamic faith. Chinese officials have used curbs on religion to criminalize peaceful religious practices and circumvent the continuance of Uyghur traditions.
A Hotan police officer cited by the Global Times suggested that an official notice posted on June 7 in Gujanbagh regarding the house-to-house searches had been misinterpreted by those, such as the Uyghur American Association (UAA), that had questioned the use of police force, although the notice clearly states that police would “force their way in” if they refused to open their door. In addition, the assertion of regional information office chief Hou Hanmin, also cited by the Global Times, that police would never enter residents’ homes by force without proper reason, or use arbitrary violence, rings hollow in light of documentation of the use of force and violence by human rights groups. For instance, the report issued by Human Rights Watch in October 2009 documented security forces’ arbitrary use of force, arbitrary searches and arbitrary detentions in Uyghur-dominated areas of Urumchi during July 2009 unrest.
The wording of the June 7 official notice contradicts the assertion of the above-referenced anonymous employee cited by Global Times that authorities were mainly inspecting “residents living in rented houses” in Gujanbagh. The official notice clearly states that every residence will be searched.
The Global Times’ attribution of quotes to anonymous sources further clouds the murky process by which officials in East Turkestan implement arbitrary legal measures on the Uyghur population. In the absence of transparent legal processes by which to hold officials accountable for their actions, the door is left open to the abuse of power. Official notices such as the notice in Gujanbagh facilitate the abuse of power by using broad, undefined terms that do nothing to encourage security forces to act with restraint.
As searches take place in Hotan, reports are emerging from the regional capital of Urumchi that authorities there have also launched house-to-house searches. According to a local resident, the searches are aimed at uncovering overseas links among the city’s residents.
The neighborhood to be searched in Hotan is located in the vicinity of the Regional Office of the Hotan Central Party Committee, next-door to the location of a police raid that took place on June 6. The raid on a religious school in Hotan resulted in the injury of 12 Uyghur children, several staff members and three police officers. The raid took place as Chinese authorities stepped up a campaign on underground religious schools in East Turkestan, and as Chinese police have heightened the security presence in the region due to the upcoming third anniversary of turbulent unrest in Urumchi.
Chinese officials have a history of conducting house-to-house searches in Hotan and other cities in East Turkestan as part of intensive security clampdowns. Heightened campaigns to promote security and battle alleged separatism in East Turkestan have frequently corresponded with increased drives to dilute Uyghur culture and assimilate Uyghurs. In the days, weeks and months following the July 2009 unrest in Urumchi, Uyghurs living in Urumchi and other locations in East Turkestan were subjected to widespread arbitrary detention and “forcible disappearances” after house-to-house searches and other security sweeps.