20080307-Uyghur arguing iwth Han Chinese.jpg
Uighur arguing
with a Han Chinese

Beijing’s grip on Xinjiang has been described as Soviet-like. The Chinese government has restricted religious freedom, closed local publishing houses and given special powers to the special "rapid-deployment force." Soldiers and police have increased their presence. Paramilitary guards with semi-automatic weapons stand at entrances to government buildings in Urumqi. Security cameras are becoming a common sights in Uighur housing projects in Kashgar and Urumqi. Authorities have raided street stalls and whole markets that sold Osama bin Laden merchandise.

Nisid Hajari of Bloomberg wrote: “Uyghur grievances are longstanding and well-known: Inequality in resource-rich Xinjiang is dramatic, with the best-paying jobs typically going to the Han Chinese migrants who now make up half the population. Authorities harass Uyghur men for growing beards and women for wearing headscarves. Uyghurs who work elsewhere in China are routinely discriminated against. At home, they see little benefit from the autonomy and economic development that Beijing promises on paper.” [Source: Nisid Hajari, Bloomberg View editorial board, March 5, 2014]

Many Uyghurs say they face routine discrimination and restrictions on their culture and Muslim religion. There is a network of surveillance cameras trained on mosques, public areas and some residential streets. People say the government employs informants — locals paid to spy on their own. [Source: Philip Wen, Sanghee Liu, Sydney Morning Herald, March 1, 2014]

Bruce Humes wrote in Ethnic China Lit, “Xinjiang society is the object of a harsh crackdown that at times appears more “anti-Uyghur” than “anti-terrorist”: Uyghur women wearing the hijab and long-bearded men are being banned from public transport; Uyghurs in some areas of Xinjiang can no longer travel freely with their national ID, but must apply for difficult-to-obtain additional identification such as a , or “Convenience Card”; moderate Uyghur intellectual and spokesman Ilham Tohti has recently been sentenced to life in jail for operating a web site alleged to have incited separatism; and hundreds of writers and translators have reportedly signed an Open letter to our Uyghur Compatriots in which they call for Muslims to “go to mosques under the sunshine instead of illegal teaching sites hidden in underground dens.”among Uyghurs — and central government and Xinjiang dignitaries. [Source: Ethnic China Lit, Bruce Humes, January 23, 2015]

The government has doubled the policing budget in the province and jailed hundreds of Uyghurs, In some places, the government has banned Uyghurs from buying knives and Uyghur women from wearing veils. Armed security forces are a common sight on the streets of Xinjiang. There are security check points on many roads and at the entrance of markets and shopping malls where Uyghurs, especially young men, are stopped and checked. [Source: BBC, January 2015]

Dan Levin wrote in the New York Times, “Uyghur exile groups put the blame for the bloodshed on paramilitary police officers they say have been given the green light to use deadly force against unarmed protesters. In Kashgar, security forces standing guard with guns and shields are a familiar sight. They are particularly visible in People’s Square, which is dominated by a statue of Mao waving toward the Han area of the city; his back is to the demolished Uyghur quarter.” [Source: Dan Levin, New York Times, March 5, 2014 |+|]

Discrimination Against Uyghurs

"Mashrap", traditional all-male gathering, are closely regulated by the government. Uighurs are often barred from hotels and Internet cafes because they are assumed to be terrorists or criminals. They are watched suspiciously by Han security guards when they enter shops.

Rachel Lu wrote in Tea Leaf Nation: Uyghurs “bristle under heavy-handed restrictions placed on their language, religion, and way of life. Han officials there often fail to learn functional Uyghur, and traditional Uyghur male gatherings called meshrep are often banned as “illicit” or dispersed by police. Making matters worse, anti-Uyghur discrimination and profiling abound in their homeland. One Weibo user wrote,” I have been to Urumqi, Kashgar, and Turpan in Xinjiang, and as a Han person, I feel really sorry for the Uyghurs. The security checks are always focused on the minorities. That’s a problem, a big problem.” [Source: Rachel Lu, Tea Leaf Nation, October 30, 2013]

With their slightly European features and heavy accents, most Uyghurs are immediately recognizable as distinct from China's ethnic Han majority. Christopher Bodeen and Isolda Morillo of Associated Press wrote: “Many complain of strict government controls not seen in other parts of China, including a ban on religious observance by minors and injunctions against traditional male cultural gatherings called meshreps. Recent moves to mainly use Chinese in Xinjiang schools have raised fears of the further erosion of Uyghur language and culture, as well as job losses for Uyghur teachers. Uyghurs frequently say they're made to feel like second-class citizens, facing difficulties obtaining passports or even traveling outside Xinjiang. Hotels and airlines are reported to have unofficial bans on catering to Uyghurs, and many employers refuse to hire them. "Hotels won't take us and you can't rent if your ID shows a Xinjiang residence. People look at us with a lot of prejudice," said Yusuf Mahmati, 33, a fur trader plying his wares on a busy sidewalk opposite the Panijayuan market, a gathering place for traders from several regional ethnic groups. [Source: Christopher Bodeen and Isolda Morillo, Associated Press, October 30, 2013] Simon Denyer wrote in the Washington Post, “Many Uyghurs feel like second-class citizens in Xinjiang, culturally, socially and economically discriminated against by the now dominant Han. The capital, Urumqi, is a deeply divided city in which the two groups barely mix and ethnic riots in 2009 left at least 200 people dead. [Source: Simon Denyer, Washington Post, September 10, 2014]

Many Uyghurs say economic disenfranchisement that has left them largely poor even as China's economy booms. Uyghurs also say they've seen little benefit from the exploitation of Xinjiang's natural resources while good jobs tend to flow to ethnic Han migrants. Simon Denyer wrote in the Washington Post, “ The opening up of the Chinese economy in the 1990s, coupled with significant investment in industry and infrastructure in Xinjiang, brought fast economic growth and higher living standards to the region, but those gains disproportionately benefited the Han people — and so fueled more Uyghur discontent. Freed from strict government controls, state-owned enterprises run by Han managers overwhelmingly hired Han workers, often openly discriminating against Uyghurs and attracting a new wave of Han migrants from what is known as “mainland China.” Within the region, experts say, the economic divide between the Han-majority northern city of Urumqi and the mainly Uyghur, more rural south is sharp and growing. [Source: Simon Denyer, Washington Post, September 10, 2014]

Uyghurs now make up only 12 percent of Urumqi’s population. [Source: Chris Walker and Morgan Hartley, The Atlantic, October 29, 2013]

Chinese Crackdowns in Xinjiang

A Chinese official told the Los Angeles Times, “In Xinjiang, the separatists, religious extremists and violent terrorists are all around us, In China, endangering national security is the No. 1 crime. We have to crackdown on it severely.” September 11th gave Beijing more leverage as the accused Xinjiang separatist groups of having ties with Al-Qaida.

The Chinese government has used terrorism as an excuse to crack down on any kind of activity they view as a threat or don’t like. Uighurs have been arrested for showing signs of dissent, meeting with foreigners, and fasting in Ramadan. Among those that have been arrested are travel agency workers that met with foreign tourists after work. As a carrot, Beijing has offered job opportunities as a way blunting separatist activities.

Strike Hard — an anti-crime campaign intended to fight organized crime, drugs and pornography — has become a cover to crackdown on Uighurs. Yu Jianrong of the Institute of Rural Development told the Washington Post: “If you want a peaceful life, you must have strong and forceful measures. If the government wants to keep Xinjiang inside Chinese territory. They must take measures to crack down on separatists without any softness.”

It is difficult too get a handle as to what is going on as many Uighur replies are quickly and defensively "on message". For example, one man said "The Chinese help us. They are more educated than us, they are helping us develop." Few Uighurs are willing to identify themselves by name when they talk to foreign reporters out of fear of drawing the attention of police and authorities to themselves. Those that do talk are very careful about what they say. One told the New York Times, “There are some words we feel in our hearts, but we cannot say.” [Source: New York Times, BBC]

One man who talked with the BBC metaphorically accused the Chinese of “stealing our bread; if someone takes your bread, will you not take it back?” He then went on: “I don't like violence, but we need a revolution, and you cannot have a revolution without blood.”

Complaints by Xinjiang People About China

Many people in Xinjiang don't like the Chinese. Some Uighurs spit on the ground whenever they pass a Han Chinese and call Chinese women baorzi (sluts). The Muslims in Xinjiang are unhappy about three major issues: the mass migration of Han Chinese, the testing of nuclear weapons in Lop Nor and the exploitation of Xinjiang oil, which locals view as theirs.

Flight attendants on flights to Xinjiang speak English but not Uighur. On trains in Xinjiang only Chinese is spoken. To get gain entrance into a Chinese university and get a good job, the Muslim minorities in Xinjiang have to pass Chinese-language examinations. The people of Xinjiang also resent having Mandarin names attached to their ancient ruins, and believe that its none of the Chinese business how many children they have. When Uighurs do speak Mandarin they are often mocked for heir accents by Han Chinese.

Many Chinese support the rough treatment given to Uighurs and other Muslims. One Chinese man from Sichuan told the Washington Post, “You have to watch them carefully. A lot of them hate us, you know. We have to suppress them. There’s no other choice.”

Rebiya Kadeer wrote in the Times of London, “Uighurs have been slowly suffocating from official policies aimed at eliminating our Turkic culture and mystical brand of Islam — much in the same way that official policies have destroyed the culture and customs of Tibetans.”

On Chinese migration diluting the local population, Nicholas Bequelin of Human Rights Watch told the Washington Post, “China probably has the most efficient assimilation model in the world. It’s the ultimate solution.”

One Uighur man told Reuters, “What we want is simple — freedom. But there are too many Han and too few of us.”

Even so most Uighurs are opposed to violence, knowing that protest would almost certainly be suppressed by the People's Liberation Army, and accepting that investment from Beijing is providing work, development and greater prosperity for Uighur people.

Han Settlers in Xinjiang

About 2.5 million Han arrived in Xinjiang between the late 1990s and the late 2000s. Han settlers often get free transportation, insurance, housing and help finding jobs and starting businesses.

Beijing has loosened immigration rules and offers tax incentives to encourage Han Chinese to head to Tibetan and Xinjiang to open new businesses. In many Xinjiang cities, Chinese live in modern apartment blocks while Uighurs live in run-down mud-rick homes.

Many arrive in Urumqi on the 56-hour train ride from China’s east coast and know little about Xinjiang other than that the region boasts 10 percent growth rates and individuals can make $400 a month, twice the amount they can back home.

The economic crisis in 2008 and 2009 and the closing down of factories and the decline of construction in eastern China spurred even greater numbers of Han Chinese to head to Xinjiang.

Leaders in other places in China have encouraged their residents to move to Xinjiang, effectively exporting their unemployment problems and potential for unrest to Xinjiang. The city of Chongqing said it was going to send 100,000 people to Xinjiang in 2009. One county in Ningxia gave 3,200 peasants it was sending off a special ceremony. In March 2009, the railroad ministry boasted 109 trans has carried 210,000 people from three cities in central China to Urumqi to work in construction, agriculture and energy. [Source: Los Angeles Times]

Job Discrimination in Xinjiang

Many employers refuse to hire Uighurs for even the most menial positions, even things like dangerous mine work or packing cotton. In one request for new workers in the Xinjiang Production and Construction Corps, 800 of the 840 civil service job openings were reserved for Han workers.

Many of the best jobs are government jobs. Advancement is easier if one joins the Communist Party which requires one to renounce their religion. Most Uighurs are not willing to do that. Many Uighurs have to migrate to the east to find opportunities.

The Chinese are accused of taking all the good jobs and being only interested in money. "Every employee I saw in my Western-style hotel was a Han," wrote Thomas Allen in National Geographic. "All the police officers I saw were Han. Even unskilled laborers were Han, lured from other provinces to work on the dozens of high rises, sprouting in Urumqi." Allen saw only one Kazak woman in a factory that produced leather jackets for export to Sweden. The jackets were made from sheepskin brought in by Kazakh herdsmen on bicycles and donkeys and then sewn into jackets by Han woman who earn more in two months than a herdsman makes in a year.

Ilham Tohti, a leading Uighur intellectual and economic profession at the Central Nationalities University in Beijing, estimated that 1.5 million Uighur workers — the equivalent of half the adult males — are unemployed. In 2009 Tohti disappeared and is believed to be under house arrest.

Phrases like “Han only” and “No ethnic minorities” routinely appear in classified job ads. The Los Angeles Times reported a job listing in a government-rum employment agency that went: “Room service staff needed. 18-40 year old. Junior high school degree required. Han only.”

Bilingual Uighur university graduates have more difficulty than Han Chinese on job placement tests that require knowledge of thousands of Chinese characters.

Uighurs get especially bitter when they see the discrimination against them coupled with the advantages given the Han. “All we want is the same opportunity,” one Uighur told the Los Angeles Times.

Owners of Uighur and Muslim restaurants in Beijing complain of being harassed over trivial health matters by health officials and police. Uighur workers at these restaurants and other Uighurs sometimes have heir papers checked every morning by Beijing police. Many Uighurs who were in Beijing at the time of the Olympics left. Those that didn’t leave voluntarily were pressured to leave by police.

Segregation Xinjiang-Style

Han and Uyghur university students live remarkably separate lives, with dormitories ethnically segregated and canteens also separate because of the Muslim taboo on eating pork. In his book "The Tree That Bleeds: a Uyghur Town on the Edge" Nick Holdstock wrote:"The Han and Uyghur students didn't talk to each other or play sport together. They certainly did not date. But despite this separation, there was little visible rancor. It was more likely they were trying to pretend each other did not exist." [Source: Michael Rank, Asia Times, January 7, 2012]

Holdstock found his Han Chinese colleagues and students cool and standoffish, even though he had had no trouble making Han friends when he taught in Hunan province. He found this was partly due to the fact that students were allowed to visit his room only in groups of three or more and teachers only if accompanied by a colleague because a few years earlier a Norwegian teacher had used his classes to proselytize for Christianity.

At the university in Yining only four out of 350 students in the English department were Uyghurs. This is partly because, although non-Han need lower exam scores to enter university, they are, to balance this reverse discrimination, admitted only in alternate years.

Book: "The Tree That Bleeds: a Uyghur Town on the Edge" by Nick Holdstock (Luath Press Ltd, 2011)

Uyghurs Forcibly Sent Back to Xinjiang

In March 2014, after the deadly knife attack in Kunming, RFA and Ming Pao reported that 900 Uyghurs in Shadian, Yunnan were forcibly sent back to Xinjiang. Similar reports have surfaced from locations across the country. RFA reported: “Authorities in the southwestern Chinese province of Yunnan are deporting large numbers of ethnic minority Uyghurs back to the troubled region of Xinjiang. "The government put them on buses and drove them to Kunming [Yunnan's capital], and each person was given a subsidy of 1,000 yuan [U.S. $163]," a resident of Yunnan's Shadian township told RFA's Cantonese Service. "They made them take the train back to their hometowns." "I heard that Uyghurs from Honghe prefecture and other places were all sent back to Xinjiang as well," said the resident. [Source: Radio Free Asia, March 12, 2014 ^^^]

“The move followed warnings last week from an official in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region that China's mostly Muslim Uyghur minority could face a further backlash of discrimination in the wake of the Kunming railway station killings as the authorities tighten security restrictions based on ethnic profiling. Mutalif Obul, commissioner of Xinjiang's Kashgar prefecture, told state media that Chinese cities had stepped up measures targeting Uyghurs on the basis of their ethnicity following the March 1 stabbings that left 33 dead in what authorities have labeled a "terror attack" carried out by Uyghur separatists. ^^^

“An employee who answered the phone at a guesthouse in Honghe's Shiping county said that other people from outside Yunnan were being subjected to police interviews since the deadly attacks. "It's not just people from Xinjiang," the employee said. "If you are from another province, the police will basically come and visit you to check you out." "If an outsider checks into a guesthouse, the police will come to the guesthouse to carry out checks [on that person]," he said. But he didn't give examples of any non-Uyghur outsiders who had been sent home. ^^^

“Hong Kong's Ming Pao newspaper reported on Wednesday that nearly 900 Uyghurs have been subjected to internal deportation since the Kunming attacks. Uyghurs in Shadian had more economic opportunities and were able to practice Islam with fewer restrictions than in tightly controlled Xinjiang, the paper said, quoting local sources. ^^^

“Ilshat Hassan, vice-president of the Uyghur American Association, said similar moves were afoot to "repatriate" Uyghurs from other major Chinese cities. Authorities have taken similar steps in Beijing, Henan, and Shaanxi, according to sources who spoke to the U.S.-based group. "Other places are already doing this: Beijing, Henan, and Shaanxi, as well as Yao'an," Hassan said. "They are all sending Uyghurs back." "Previously, they just wouldn't allow them to stay in guesthouses; now they are openly demanding that they go back [to Xinjiang]," he said. ^^^

“Rights activists said the tendency towards enforced ethnic segregation is a dangerous one. "For the state to be removing Uyghurs from mainland China contravenes the idea that people can move freely around the country," Henryk Szadziewski, senior researcher with the Uyghur Human Rights Project, told RFA's Mandarin Service. "It promotes a form of segregation. Already, we see in Urumqi itself ... all across the region, people almost selectively segregate themselves," he said. Szadziewski called on Beijing to involve Uyghurs more, not less, in their own future. "To be demonizing Uyghurs in contemporary China is a serious issue, because if you push people to the margins, they will have few choices, and they will go looking for other alternatives," he said. "Bring them in. Make them decision-makers. Make them participate in their own destiny," he said. ^^^

“Meanwhile, U.S.-based rights activist Liu Qing, former head of Human Rights in China (HRIC), said the move to send Uyghurs away from Yunnan is a "serious violation" of their rights. "There is no evidence suggesting that these people are connected to the terror attack," Liu said. "A rational society should not discriminate against these innocent people." "The Uyghurs who are sent back to Xinjiang may share their outrage with their compatriots, and that will fan the flames of hatred, which is an ingredient of terrorism," he said. ^^^

Dangers of Teaching the Uyghur Language

Andrew Jacobs wrote in the New York Times, “A poet, linguist and globe-trotting polyglot, Abduweli Ayup had a passion for the spoken word, notably Uyghur, the Turkic language spoken in his homeland. In 2011, soon after finishing his graduate studies in the United States, Mr. Ayup returned home to open a chain of “mother tongue” schools in Xinjiang. But in a country where language is politically fraught, Mr. Ayup’s devotion to Uyghur may have proved his undoing.” In August 2013, Mr. Ayup and two business partners were arrested and accused of “illegal fund-raising,” charges that stemmed from their effort to finance a new school by, among other means, selling honey and T-shirts emblazoned with the school’s insignia. Mr. Ayup, 39, and his two associates, Dilyar Obul and Muhemmet Sidik, have not been heard from” for almost a year after they were detained.[Source: Andrew Jacobs, New York Times, May 12, 2014 |=|]

Ayup spent two years at the University of Kansas on a Ford Foundation fellowship. He earned a Master’s Degree in Linguistics. Ayup turned down a three-year scholarship at the University of Kansas to pursue his dream of opening the Uyghur language schools, which he called Their firm was called Mother Tongue International Co. Anwar Memet, a childhood friend and middle school classmate who now lives in the U.S., told RFA that Ayup’s supervisor at the University of Kansas had offered him a three-year scholarship if he agreed to pursue his doctorate in linguistics following the completion of his graduate degree. “[B]ut he chose to return to his homeland to realize his dream ... of opening Uyghur-language kindergartens and schools.” He said that he and other friends had tried to persuade Ayup—whose wife and daughter were also with him in the U.S. at the time—to stay to pursue his studies, but he could not be swayed. [Source: RFA, August 27, 2014]

Jacobs wrote: “The story of how Mr. Ayup traded the freedoms of life in America for the quixotic dream of opening Uyghur-language schools in Xinjiang is a cautionary tale about the perils of challenging the Chinese state on matters of ethnic identity. At a time when the authorities are determined to tamp down even the faintest expression of Uyghur self-determination, few hold much hope that he will be freed anytime soon. “The government can make sure he rots in jail for years,” said Mamatjan Juma, a childhood friend. “They don’t want a brave, influential intellectual like him on the streets.” |=|

“Despite the evident risks, friends say Mr. Ayup thought he might succeed by steering clear of politics and carefully following the regulations that govern the establishment of private schools. Soon after returning from the United States, he opened a kindergarten in the Silk Road city of Kashgar. Having quickly achieved full enrollment, he set his sights on Urumqi, where Mandarin-language public schools are producing a generation with limited Uyghur proficiency. Anwar Mamat, 38, a childhood friend who teaches at the University of Nebraska, said, “A lot of parents are willing to send their kids to a Uyghur school, but none are available,” he said. “Abduweli knew the risks, but he was committed to achieving his goals.” |=|

“It was not long before Mr. Ayup had become a local celebrity. He appeared on state-run television to offer advice about studying abroad, and his blog posts on Uyghur language drew hundreds of thousands of hits. Robert Wilson, an English teacher in New York who was a former student of Mr. Ayup’s, said he was far from a radical. “It wasn’t that he thought Uyghurs shouldn’t learn Chinese, it’s just that he thought they should also know their own language,” Mr. Wilson said. But Mr. Ayup soon met official resistance. Last year the authorities forced the cancellation of an event he had organized to mark Nowruz, an ancient pre-Islamic celebration of spring, and in March of 2013, they shut the kindergarten in Kashgar, saying it lacked the proper license. |=|

“Faced with bureaucratic intransigence to his proposed school in Urumqi, Mr. Ayup began documenting his odyssey online last spring, a move that most likely angered the authorities. “It was a kind of symbolic activism, to let people know how China was treating the status of the Uyghur language,” said Mr. Juma, the childhood friend, who is a senior editor at Radio Free Asia, an American-financed news service. |=|

“According to Omerjan Bore, a brother of Mr. Sidik, one of the detained associates, the three men had been trying to raise $260,000 to open a kindergarten in Tianshan, a largely Uyghur neighborhood in Urumqi. The owner of two accounting companies and an employee at the regional taxation bureau, Mr. Sidik was apolitical and steadfastly law-abiding, his brother said. He said the other partner, Mr. Obul, was a well-regarded lawyer. “What they were doing was completely legitimate and legal,” said Mr. Bore, who lives in Canada. “Everyone in the world wants to keep their own language.” |=|

Uyghur Language Teacher Sentenced to Prison

In August 2014, a year after he was detained, Ayup was sentenced to prison on what their supporters see as trumped-up charges of “illegal fundraising.” Obul and Sidik each were also sentenced to jail. RFA reported: “In a case that has received international attention, the Tengritagh (in Chinese, Tianshan) district court in Xinjiang’s capital Urumqi imposed an 18-month jail term and a 80,000 yuan (U.S $13,000) fine on Abduweli Ayup after detaining him for about a year, a relative of Ayup’s told RFA’s Uyghur Service. Sidik, the company’s director, was sentenced to two years and three months imprisonment and ordered to pay a fine of 130,000 yuan (U.S. $21,130) while Obul, a board member like Ayup, got two years imprisonment and was fined 100,000 yuan (U.S. $16,260), the relative said.[Source: RFA, August 27, 2014 /*]

“The court arrived at its decision on Aug. 21 after holding a one day-trial on July 11, he said, adding that Ayup’s family has been notified about the ruling. “The ruling states that they committed a crime of abusing public money,” he said, citing a copy of the court’s ruling. “There are no other charges except that.” He said that Ayup and Obul had accepted the verdict and do not wish to lodge an appeal. Sidik’s decision however is not immediately known. /*\

“The jail sentences would be effective from the date of their detention, according to the court ruling, he said. “If the court ruling is truly enforced, Ayup may be released in six months,” he said. The trio are being held in Liudawan prison in Urumqi. “It has not been stated when the ruling would be enforced and Ayup’s parents have not been allowed to meet with him,” the relative said. /*\

“Relatives of Ayup were not told of his whereabouts, even though they had pleaded to meet with him after learning that he was in poor health in jail. A group of supporters in the United States lately launched a petition on to publicize his case, receiving more than 500 backers from across the globe. They also set up a Facebook page “Justice for Uyghur Linguist Abduweli Ayup” to highlight his plight. The New York-based Committee of Concerned Scientists also wrote a note of concern over Ayup’s plight to Chinese President Xi Jinping.

Religious Repression in Xinjiang

The government believes Uyghurs should be Chinese first and Muslim second. It has banned anyone under the age of 18 from entering a mosque. The ban also applies to government officials and Communist Party members. Praying is strictly regulated in Xinjiang. For an Uyghur couple to get married by a Muslim iman is against Chinese law. Couples have to apply to the government for a marriage certificate. [Source: BBC, January 2015]

Philip Wen and Sanghee Liu wrote in the Sydney Morning Herald, “One of the fundamental sources of tension in Xinjiang is the mismatch between what the government and Uyghurs understand by religious freedom. The Chinese government insists that it does not impede religious practice in the region, in line with the constitution. But the government mandates that ''normal religious activity'' can take place only within government-sanctioned organisations and places of worship. Muslims worshipping independently risk being detained. Women are told to remove headscarves in public. Pilgrimages to Mecca are illegal if not made on government-organised trips which, while subsidised by the state, have small annual quotas which are swiftly filled. Religious instruction is forbidden outside approved government institutions, mainly in Urumqi.” [Source: Philip Wen, Sanghee Liu, Sydney Morning Herald, March 1, 2014]

In February 2014, “Yu Zhengsheng, a member of China's seven-man Politburo Standing Committee, called for stricter management of religious activities to ensure it did not "spill over into illegal acts". In an official training video for Communist Party cadres seen by Fairfax Media, a government religion expert argues there are too many mosques in the region. "We can't extinguish religion for the moment, we respect the freedom of religion," Ma Pinyan says. "But that doesn't necessarily mean faith in religion is good for the nation's development. My heart breaks when I see gleaming mosques next to schools which are run-down and dilapidated."

In January 2015, Urumqi, the capital of Xinjiang and a city with 3.1 million people, banned women from wearing the burqa in "an effort to curb growing extremism". "Burqas are not traditional dress for Uyghur women, and wearing them in public places is banned in countries such as Belgium and France," Xinhua reported. [Source: Tom Phillips, The Telegraph, January 13, 2015]

Uyghurs at a Mosque Forced to Bow Towards Chinese Flag

In September 2013, Authorities placed a Chinese flag at the head of a mosque in Xinjiang and forced ethnic Uyghurs to bow to it when they worship, Uyghur activists said. [Source: Massoud Hayoun of Al Jazeera America reported: The local government in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region’s Aksu area placed the flag over the mihrab — the traditional prayer niche that points the direction to Mecca — prominent Uyghur rights advocate Ilham Tohti told Al Jazeera. He called it an effort to “dilute the religious environment” in the area, where minority Uyghurs often complain of ethnic and religious repression. [Source: Massoud Hayoun, Al Jazeera America, September 18, 2013 \^/]

“Reports from Uyghurs in the area said the placement of the flag has upset residents amid a series of fresh religious restrictions, which analysts say Beijing hopes will integrate Uyghurs into Chinese society and pacify the strategically important region. Xinjiang is perennially rocked by clashes between Muslim Uyghurs and China’s majority ethnic Han Chinese. “They placed the flag at a very sensitive place in the mosque,” Tohti said, explaining that he has seen Chinese flags prominently positioned in mosques in China before — but never in such a sensitive spot. “They are essentially saying the flag is higher than religion,” he said. \^/

“Authorities in Xinjiang have recently imposed new restrictions on religious behavior. These including posting signs across the region barring women from wearing headscarves in public venues. New religious restrictions compound decades-old bans on minors entering mosques to receive religious instruction and attempt to curb traditional fasting during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. \^/

China Bans Ramadan Among Students and Civil Servants in Xinjiang

In 2014, students and civil servants in Xinjiang were ordered to avoid taking part in the traditional fast during Ramadan following deadly unrest in the region. Didi Tang of Associated Press wrote: “Government agencies and local party organizations in the Xinjiang region said the ban was aimed at protecting students' wellbeing and preventing use of schools and government offices to promote religion. Statements on the websites of local party organizations said members of the officially atheist ruling party also should avoid fasting. "No teacher can participate in religious activities, instill religious thoughts in students or coerce students into religious activities," said a statement on the website of the No. 3 Grade School in Ruoqiang County in Xinjiang. [Source: Didi Tang, Associated Press, July 3, 2014 ]

“Similar bans have been imposed in the past on fasting for Ramadan.” But 2014 was “unusually sensitive because Xinjiang is under tight security following attacks that the government blames on Muslim extremists with foreign terrorist ties. An attack on May 22 in the regional capital of Urumqi by four people who threw bombs in a vegetable market killed 43 people, including the attackers. On June 22, police in Kashgar in the far west said they killed 13 assailants who drove into a police building and set off explosives, injuring three officers.

“The ruling party is wary of religious activities it worries might serve as a rallying point for opposition to one-party rule. Authorities in some communities in Xinjiang held celebrations of the anniversary of the founding of the Communist Party and served food to test whether Muslim guests were fasting, according to Dilxat Raxit, spokesman in Germany for the rights group World Uyghur Congress."This will lead to more conflicts if China uses coercive measures to rule and to challenge Uyghur beliefs," said Dilxat Raxit in an email.

“The ruling party says religion and education should be kept separate and students should not be subject to religious influences. That rule is rarely enforced for children of Han Chinese, who, if they have a religion, are mostly Buddhist, Daoist or Christian. "Students shall not participate in religious activities; they shall not study scripts or read poems at script and choir classes; they shall not wear any religious emblems; and no parent or others can force students to have religious beliefs or partake in religious activities," said the statement on the website of the grade school in Ruoqiang County.

“A news portal run by the government of Yili in the northern reaches of Xinjiang said fasting is detrimental to the physical wellbeing of young students, who should eat regularly. In the city of Bole, retired teachers from the Wutubulage Middle School were called in to stand guard at mosques and prevent students from entering, according to a statement on the municipal party committee website. Also in Bole, the Bozhou University of Radio and Television said on its website it held a meeting with working and retired minority teachers on the first day of the Ramadan to remind them of the fasting ban.

“The forestry bureau in Xinjiang's Zhaosu county held an event the day before Ramadan at which party cadres signed a pledge they and their relatives would "firmly resist fasting," according to a statement on the website of the local party committee. The Moyu Weather Bureau in the Hotan area said on its website that Muslim employees, both active and retired, were required to sign a letter promising not to fast. The commercial bureau for Turpan, an oasis town in the Taklamakan Desert, said in a statement that civil servants are "strictly forbidden" to fast or perform the Salat prayer ritual in a mosque.

New Repressive Rules on Religion and the Internet in Xinjiang

In November 2014, Reuters reported: The “Xinjiang region has banned the practice of religion in government buildings and will fine those who use the Internet to 'undermine national unity', in a package of regulations aimed at combating separatism in the province. The rules, passed by the standing committee of Xinjiang's parliament, stipulate penalties of between 5,000 and 30,000 yuan ($4,884) for individuals who use the Internet, mobile phones or digital publishing to undermine national unity, social stability or incite ethnic hatred. Equipment used in the offences also can be confiscated, the official Xinhua News Agency reported on Sunday.

The regulations, which come into effect in January 2015 also prohibit people from distributing and viewing videos about jihad, or holy war, religious extremism and terrorism in or outside religious venues, and requires religious leaders to report such activities to the local authorities and police, the China Daily reported. "An increasing number of problems involving religious affairs have emerged in Xinjiang," said Ma Mingcheng, deputy director of the Xinjiang People's Congress and director of its legislative affairs committee, according to the Chinese newspaper.

People will not be allowed to practice religion in government offices, public schools, businesses or institutions. Religious activities will have to take place in registered venues, the report said. They also are prohibited from wearing or forcing others to wear clothes or logos associated with religious extremism, although the types of clothes and logos aren't specified, the newspaper said.

Unauthorized Islamic Activity in Xinjiang

Philip Wen and Sanghee Liu wrote in the Sydney Morning Herald, “Some are taking things in their own hands. In Hotan, Nabir*, a security guard in his 30s, slinks into the back of our car. He wants to see my passport and press credentials, worried I work for the government. Nabir has sent his eight-year-old son for religious training at a kanunciz orun - literally, an "illegal place". It is a practice so fraught and secretive he doesn't even know where his son is, and hasn't seen him since he sent him away three months ago. "If police find out about them, the teachers will be in jail forever, or shot dead on the spot," he says. [Source: Philip Wen, Sanghee Liu, Sydney Morning Herald, March 1, 2014 /*]

“Yusuf, a student at a major university in Beijing, feel uneasy whenever they are back home. Yusuf, 23, who hails from a village on the outskirts of Karakash, near Hotan, says despite government pressure, conservative Islamic thought has been resurgent in southern Xinjiang, especially in Hotan, considered the most traditional of major Uyghur cities. "I just think, logically, if you squeeze something really tight, it will repel," he says. Yusuf says his friends get angry at the tightening pressures on religious freedom, "but they don't dare to speak out". One outlet used is WeChat, a mobile messaging and social media application, where information can spread quickly through group messages and popular Uyghur-language blogs./*\

Media Reports on Xinjiang

Philip Wen and Sanghee Liu wrote in the Sydney Morning Herald, “State media reports on the violence in Xinjiang have taken on almost a template format, with references to "organised and premeditated" terrorist attacks, with the assailants often watching "videos from overseas showing terrorist acts". "[The reports] are completely unreliable. They're incoherent, and on specific incidents they often contradict themselves," says Nicholas Bequelin, a Xinjiang researcher at Human Rights Watch. "There's great variance with what people can observe on the ground." [Source: Philip Wen, Sanghee Liu, Sydney Morning Herald, March 1, 2014 /*]

“In Karakash, locals say police opened fire on a crowd, including children, that had gathered to protest after three Uyghur men were shot after insisting they perform Friday prayers at their local mosque, rather than the one regulated by authorities. And in Jigdejay, locals say religious students had gathered from nearby towns and hid in the desert simply to undertake forbidden study of the Koran, but were shot dead by police, even though they were unarmed. /*\

“Willingness to believe local versions of events passed on by word of mouth highlights the level of distrust and antagonism in the region. But there is plenty of paranoia on the other side. In Urumqi, we are detained and questioned by police keen to ascertain whether we were part of the ''hostile external forces'' the government says are trying to split Xinjiang from China. /*\

Difficulty of Reporting Xinjiang

It is difficult for foreign journalists to report in Xinjiang, making it difficult to figure out what is going on there. Julie Makinen wrote in the Los Angeles Times: “Even as Chinese officials insist that this is a clear-cut battle against religious zealots and hard-core separatists, local authorities are making it difficult for anyone to independently question (or substantiate) that narrative. Outsiders inquiring about the scale or causes of the carnage in Xinjiang are unwelcome, and locals are discouraged from speaking freely about it. That became abundantly clear when I and my assistant, our driver and guide suddenly found ourselves accompanied by two extremely persistent Xinjiang security officers who trailed us for hours and whose intimidating presence ensured that no one would talk openly to us. [Source: Julie Makinen, Los Angeles Times, October 26, 2014 |~|]

“China's state-run media must follow the Communist Party line, but foreign journalists are supposed to be able to travel freely anywhere in the country except Tibet and interview anyone who consents. In reality, though, authorities employ various tactics to stifle coverage. In a recent survey by the Foreign Correspondents' Club of China, two-thirds of overseas reporters here said they had experienced interference, harassment or violence while attempting to report. At my hotel in Kashgar, I was questioned and photographed by police; in Yafuquan, where I stopped to observe a village market and wasn't interviewing anyone, officers nonetheless approached our van within 20 minutes, demanded my passport, photographed it and told us to leave the area. I actually got off lightly compared with Australian Broadcasting Corp. correspondent Stephen McDonell, who said he was recently trailed for 10 days in Xinjiang, sometimes followed by five cars carrying officials and plainclothes officers. Later, Chinese Embassy representatives visited McDonell's bosses in Canberra, he said, urging them to quash any report on the trip and warning that any broadcast about his experience could harm relations between the two countries. |~|

Things are even worse for Uyghur reporters. In January 2015, the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists has said Chinese authorities detained two brothers of a Uyghur reporter living in the United States. A fourth brother was sentenced to five years in prison in 2014 for violating state security laws, the group said. "We're deeply concerned by reports that family members of the Radio Free Asia journalist Shohret Hoshur continue to be harassed, including reports that his brothers have been imprisoned, apparently in retribution for his reporting," U.S. State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said on Thursday. Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei dismissed the criticism, saying, "I believe the relevant report is completely inconsistent with reality and not worth refuting." [Source: Reuters, January 9, 2015]

Being Shadowed in Xinjiang

Julie Makinen wrote in the Los Angeles Times: ““My shadows showed up in Yarkand. Ironically, I had no intention of doing interviews there. My team and I had finished our main reporting assignment for the day in another town and decided to go to Yarkand for some sightseeing — or so we thought. Within five minutes of our entering a noodle and pilaf restaurant, two young men dressed in black — one Uyghur, one Han — came in. They said nothing, but their garb suggested that they were junior officers dispatched to keep tabs on us and anyone we met. We piled into our van and drove to the city's cemetery and mosque. The men trailed conspicuously. As we walked around, they listened attentively to the guide's spiel, standing a mere arm's length away. [Source: Julie Makinen, Los Angeles Times, October 26, 2014 |~|]

We moved on to the local market. Some people seemed happy to see a rare Westerner, but they stiffened as soon as they noticed the plainclothes police. What good could come from talking to a foreigner with a police escort at her elbow? I suggested the officers pay the tour guide some money — after all, they had been learning as much as I had. They stared at me blankly. Who are you? I asked. No reply. Why are you following me? Again, no answer.

We hopped on a three-wheeled motorcycle taxi. The shadows followed. We drove to a modern mall. They stuck by our side. "Do you give all foreign visitors such a personal welcome?" I asked one of the young men. He smiled and replied in English, "I'm here for your safety." Intrigued, I pressed him. "Oh, is this town very dangerous? Did something bad happen here? I see lots of government signs about terrorism." "Society is difficult," he said obliquely. "This is a small town and something could happen suddenly."

“I went into a clothing shop, no bigger than 10 by 10 feet, with one way in and out. Behind a curtain, I tried on a dress. The officers waited just on the other side of the fabric. They followed us to our hotel. The clerk informed us the hotel had no Internet. I asked the officers why the entire city was cut off. "Maybe the Internet has some problem," said one. I went up to my room. An hour later, my assistant and I slipped out the back door, avoiding the lobby where the shadows had camped out.

Image Sources:

Text Sources: 1) "Encyclopedia of World Cultures: Russia and Eurasia/ China", edited by Paul Friedrich and Norma Diamond (C.K.Hall & Company, 1994); 2) Liu Jun, Museum of Nationalities, Central University for Nationalities, Science of China, China virtual museums, Computer Network Information Center of Chinese Academy of Sciences, ~; 3) Ethnic China *\; 4)\=/; 5), the Chinese government news site | New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, Chinese government, Compton’s Encyclopedia, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic Monthly, The Economist, Foreign Policy, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, and various books, websites and other publications.

Last updated July 2015

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