Security forces clamp down in Kashgar and Hotan on the eve of sensitive anniversary

For immediate release
April 8, 2009, 6:00 pm EST
Contact: Uyghur American Association +1 (202) 349 1496  

An intensive security clampdown is currently underway in the predominantly Uyghur cities of Kashgar and Hotan, in the southern part of East Turkestan (also known as Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region in northwest China), according to local Uyghurs, official Chinese media reports and Western news reports. At least 90 Uyghurs have been arrested in Kashgar, as the Chinese government mobilizes armed security forces throughout the area and authorities conduct house-to-house searches. Video cameras stationed throughout Kashgar monitor Uyghurs’ every move. Uyghur residents in the city of Hotan are being forced to undergo security checks, and Uyghurs in both Kashgar and Hotan are being punished for engaging in “illegal religious activities”.

More than seventy Uyghurs, including two by the names Memetimin and Adurusul, are said to have been arrested in Kashgar since mid-March on charges of engaging in “illegal religious activities” and “inciting splittism”. In addition, 16 Uyghurs are said to have been arrested in Maralbexi County in Kashgar Prefecture after having practiced a form of martial arts in a local garden. The 16 were charged with engaging in illegal military training and proselytizing.

Government officials in East Turkestan are reportedly wary of the possibility of dissent among Uyghurs this year, as 2009 marks the 60th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) and the entry of People’s Liberation Army troops into East Turkestan. Many Uyghurs consider the PRC’s military takeover of East Turkestan as an invasion of their country, similar to the way in which many of their Tibetan neighbors view the PRC’s takeover of Tibet.

According to official media reports, during a visit to Kashgar and Hotan from April 2 to April 6, Xinjiang Party Secretary Wang Lequan remarked that the two cities are “on the forefront of the fight against separatism”, and that severe measures must be taken against the “three evil forces” (terrorism, extremism and separatism) in the region. The current crackdown also comes in the wake of remarks in early March by the director of Xinjiang’s public security department, Liu Yaohua, that Xinjiang Public Security Bureaus should “minimize the factors of disharmony, and respond…all out to safeguard social stability and unity”.
The Uyghur American Association (UAA) is concerned about reports of arbitrary detention, abuse of power on the part of police and security forces, beatings and other forms of repression carried out during the clampdown in Kashgar and Hotan. UAA believes the intense security campaigns currently underway are targeted at the broader Uyghur population, with the goal of intimidating local Uyghurs and stamping out any form of dissent, however peaceful. The use of armed security forces, combined with a renewed focus on “correct ideological thinking” reminiscent of the Mao era and a hard-line policy on the expression of religious belief, coincides with a broader strategy to dilute Uyghurs’ ethnic and cultural identity in the more traditional southern areas of East Turkestan.

Security patrol unit keeps a close watch over Kashgar

A Xinjiang Peace Net report dated March 31 says the city of Kashgar has spent 10 million yuan on the creation of a new, 1,792-strong security patrol unit, with the goal of safeguarding social stability and countering any “sudden incidents” that may occur. The report states that around 2,101 video monitoring stations, connected by a sophisticated communications system, have been set up by government authorities throughout Kashgar Prefecture, including on roads and at Internet cafés, entertainment and business centers and other areas.

“The security apparatus in Kashgar is intruding into all spheres of life for local Uyghurs, and placing them under tremendous stress,” said Uyghur democracy leader Rebiya Kadeer. “Uyghurs in Kashgar feel as if they are living in an open-air jail, and fear that they or their family members may be detained at any moment.”

According to the Xinjiang Peace Net report, young, healthy individuals with “firm political thinking” have been selected as members of the security forces. Notably, the report states that the family members of those selected to be members of the security force in rural areas of Kashgar will be exempt from “voluntary labor service”- a reference to corvée labor that the government continues to forcibly implement among Uyghurs in the region. The report states that a total of 30 million yuan has been spent on a comprehensive security system in Kashgar, which, in addition to the creation of the new security forces and video monitoring stations, was invested in 11 new Santana police cars, 10 patrol cars, and anti-explosive equipment.

Combating ethnic disharmony

According to an article issued by the Shule County government on March 30 (Shule County is administered by Kashgar Prefecture), county authorities have begun launching a comprehensive program aimed at eliminating “splittism”, combating the “three evil forces”, promoting patriotism and socialism, and preventing students and teachers from engaging in religious activities. According to the article, more than 20 county-wide security sweeps were conducted in the county last year, which successfully stamped out the “three evil forces” and other types of criminal activity. As a result of these security sweeps, the report charges, 715 people were punished for criminal activity, including 101 people whom it claims were members of Hizb ut-Tahrir and other “reactionary groups”. In recent years, the Chinese government has widely accused Uyghur religious practitioners of being members of Hizb ut-Tahrir, despite a lack of evidence of even a basic familiarity with the group among the vast majority of Uyghur Muslims. 

The Shule County report recommends that activities be carried out in the county to promote the slogans “The Communist Party is good, reform and opening up is good, the big family of the motherland is good, socialism is good, ethnic unity is good, and the People’s Liberation Army is good”.
Chinese government authorities, led by Wang Lequan, have consistently equated peaceful religious practices among Uyghurs with religious extremism and separatism, and have used the global war on terror as a pretext to crack down on even the most peaceful forms of dissent. Last month, two Uyghurs in Hotan were sentenced to lengthy prison terms for engaging in peaceful acts of political expression- one, Abdukadir Mahsum, was imprisoned for leading a protest against religious persecution, while another, Mamatali Ahat, was imprisoned for raising the flag of East Turkestan in Hotan’s Unity Square.

Crackdown on religion in Hotan

In the city of Hotan, a day’s bus ride to the southeast of Kashgar, local government authorities are reportedly closing unregistered Islamic schools and conducting house-to-house searches. Under the Hotan security crackdown, which has been implemented since late February, local residents report that armed police are conducting house-to-house searches at night, and are beating those who refuse to cooperate. At least seven religious schools have been closed down, and 39 individuals arrested.
Radio Free Asia reported that hundreds of Uyghurs who gathered to pray at a mosque outside of their village in Hotan Prefecture in late March were surrounded by local police and detained for hours. According to the news organization, local residents and officials report that conducting prayers outside of their home villages is now deemed a “social crime”, and Uyghurs who engage in “cross-village worship” are being detained and fined.

Meanwhile, Uyghurs in Hotan interviewed by the National newspaper say that there are hidden cameras in some local mosques, and plain-clothes police monitor who frequents mosques in the city.

While China’s constitution guarantees religious freedom to all citizens, including the right to “[…] believe in, or not believe in, any religion”, religion is often viewed as detrimental to society, particularly in the Uyghur case. Uyghurs’ religious identity is viewed as a threat that must be controlled or eradicated. Uyghur imams are required to attend “political education classes”, and their sermons are restricted in terms of in length and content. Minors are forbidden from entering a mosque or engaging in religious study; Uyghur government cadres are forbidden from practicing Islam; and Uyghur women and university students face restrictions in their religious worship. Only official versions of the Koran are permitted.

Destruction of Kashgar’s Old City

Heightened campaigns to promote security and battle separatism in East Turkestan have frequently corresponded with increased drives to dilute Uyghur culture and assimilate Uyghurs. Beginning in late February, a government campaign to resettle Uyghurs from the centuries-old Old City in the heart of Kashgar was launched, and authorities plan to demolish the Old City’s buildings, remnants of an age-old Uyghur architectural style. The 220,000 residents of the Old City are being relocated to a distant location on the northern suburbs of Kashgar, where it will undoubtedly be difficult to continue their traditional patterns of life and culture. The central and provincial governments are investing 300 million yuan in the project.

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