Two significant developments took place within this quarter related to human security and mass detainment.
On 4 July, Radio Free Asia reported that authorities in Xinjiang had detained ‘hundreds of ethnic Uighurs’ returning from the Hajj, the annual Islamic pilgrimage to Mecca. A human-rights lawyer from the region who asked to remain anonymous said: ‘I went to lodge appeal proceedings, and I came across a detention center – the Changji Detention Center – where there were 200-300 Uyghurs who were being held after coming back from pilgrimage in the Middle East.’ According to the ‘26 Forms of Illegal Religious Activity’, Article 21 stipulates that Chinese citizens are forbidden to participate in the annual Hajj pilgrimage independently, and must participate with companies approved by the government.
The second instance of mass detainment against ethnic Uighurs began on 2 July in Egypt. Over 30 Uighur students based in Cairo were detained by the Egyptian authorities, although Radio Free Asia reports that the number could be as high as 200. Raids were carried out on ‘shops, restaurants and student accommodation’, according to accounts validated by Human Rights Watch. Three Egyptian aviation officials commented that ‘at least 12’ people were deported back to China following the arrests, with more awaiting deportation.
On 1 June, China’s State Council Information Office released a white paper entitled ‘Human Rights in Xinjiang – Development and Progress’. The document reports that there has been great social and economic progress in the region since China’s ‘reform and opening up’ began in 1978, particularly in the field of human rights.
However, as in previous years, residents of Xinjiang reported tight restrictions on those observing Ramadan. The measures included prohibitions on the practice of fasting and forcing businesses to stay open to sell alcohol.
On 10 June, ten ethnic Kazakhs were detained in Karamay city, northwest of Urumqi, for establishing ‘close ties’ with a group of Muslim Uighurs. Reports suggested that they had formed a prayer group.
The restrictions on religious names for new-borns, reported in the previous quarter, were extended to anyone under the age of 16. Those with banned names are now required to change them.
Of the 19 people killed in the first quarter of 2017, at least 11 were civilians killed by Uighur attackers, who often target ethnic Han Chinese.
On 29 March, lawmakers in Xinjiang decided to expand existing regulations against ‘religious extremism’, including banning the ‘abnormal growing of beards and naming of children to exaggerate religious fervour’. People with long beards and those wearing headscarves or veils were also banned from boarding buses, among other provisions. The new rules come into force on 1 April.
Policies appearing to infringe on religious freedom – often held up as a factor in the radicalisation of Uighurs – were strengthened in the third quarter. New education rules in Xinjiang came into force on 1 November, prohibiting parents from ‘organis[ing], lur[ing] or forc[ing] minors into attending religious activities’. This is in line with previous government policy that seeks to prevent children under 18 from attending mosque or following a religion.
On 19 October, municipal police in Shihezi, Xinjiang, announced that all residents would have to turn in their passports to authorities by 16 February 2017. The announcement said the policy applies throughout Xinjiang, and residents will have to apply to police to have them returned. An official explained that the policy will help to ‘maintain social order’.
This appeared, however, to run counter to earlier statements. State media reported in March that restrictions on movement would be relaxed and that the passport application process would be reformed as part of the ‘year of ethnic unity progress’. Xinjiang police denied on 25 November that they were holding the passports of ordinary citizens from Xinjiang, but rather only those of people suspected of having links to terrorism.
On 19 December, Radio Free Asia reported that China had demolished around 5,000 mosques across Xinjiang over the preceding three months in a ‘mosque rectification’ campaign, purportedly in the interests of public safety.
A continuing government crackdown on reporting meant little information emerged from Xinjiang.
In June, China published a white paper on religious freedom in Xinjiang, which stated that ‘no citizen suffers discrimination or unfair treatment for believing in, or not believing in, any religion’, and that ‘religious feelings and needs are fully respected’.
This assertion was not borne out by events. Radio Free Asia reported that Uighur webmasters and writers were arrested in the run-up to Ramadan in an effort to prevent criticism of restrictions on religious activity during the Muslim holy month. On 18 May, 98 Chinese Uighurs were detained at Istanbul airport carrying fake Kyrgyz passports while attempting the Hajj; China restricts the number of passports to Muslims who want to undertake the pilgrimage to Mecca. The Germany-based activist organisation World Uyghur Congress said on 6 June that 17 people had been arrested in Xinjiang for encouraging the observance of Ramadan.
A significant reduction in reported fatalities and clashes – none in the first three months of 2016 – appeared to represent a clear reduction of the threat to civilians from terrorist activity and armed clashes. There were also fewer reports of overbearing government policies or actions.
Indeed, state media reported on 31 March that restrictions on movement within Xinjiang are to be relaxed from 1 May, as part of the ‘year of ethnic unity progress’, a campaign to improve relations between ethnic groups. The process of getting a passport will also be reformed. Xinjiang party head Zhang Chunxian called on companies to employ more ethnic minorities and for respecting the cultures of minorities, while vowing to maintain a strong security posture.
However, Radio Free Asia reported that some 41 Uighurs were detained in Ghulja (Yining in Mandarin Chinese) county, Ili Kazakh Autonomous Prefecture in late March, allegedly for not attending the funeral of a local Communist Party official. Officials said the detained people were religious extremists.
The amount of reporting coming from Xinjiang slowed, reflecting either an improvement in the security and humanitarian situation, or a tightening of restrictions on reporting. The human-security situation is likely to have remained at a similar level as before.
The US State Department released its 2014 International Religious Freedom Report in October. The report said Uighur Muslims ‘experienced severe societal discrimination’, and that the government ‘sought the forcible return of ethnic Uighurs’ who have left China. The report also highlighted restrictions on clothing, education and religious practices.
Forcing others to wear unspecified clothes or symbols associated with ‘extremism’ was deemed a crime by the Supreme People’s Court on 2 November. It was previously reported that the move was under consideration by legislators, with veils mentioned as one of the offending garments. Meanwhile, a Radio Free Asia report said Uighur farmers in the Aykol township of Aksu prefecture have to take part in a hashar system of forced labour seven days a week in order to ‘better ensure social stability’ – i.e. minimising the time spent outside government surveillance – rendering them unable to work their own fields.
Anonymous local sources said 11 of the 28 people killed by security forces in November, in connection with the 18 September attack on a coal mine in Aksu, were women and children.
The French journalist Ursula Gauthier was effectively expelled from China on 31 December, when her visa lapsed. Her journalist visa was not renewed after she refused to retract an article criticising Chinese policy in Xinjiang.
At least 56, and potentially more than 65, people were killed in conflict-related incidents this quarter. Nearly all of these fatalities were caused when Uighurs targeted a Han Chinese-owned coal mine in Bay (Baicheng) county, Aksu prefecture, Xinjiang, on 18 September. It is not clear how many of the victims were civilians or members of the security forces, although the assailants reportedly targeted ordinary workers as well as site security. At least five of the dead were police officers.
The head of a local farming unit suggested in an interview that the attackers had been radicalised by policies of forced cultural assimilation. The suspected perpetrators’ families appear to have been repeatedly humiliated by officials seeking to enforce policies disallowing the wearing of veils for women, for example. It is not clear whether the attackers acted on their own or with outside guidance.
Chinese authorities continued to implement policies that appeared to suppress local customs or specifically target Uighurs. A spokesman for the World Uyghur Congress said on 17 August that Uighurs in Beijing were being sent back to Xinjiang as part of security measures ahead of China’s 3 September World War II victory parade.
Two brothers of Radio Free Asia reporter Shohret Hoshur went on trial on charges of endangering state security and leaking state secrets. The US-funded broadcaster often reports on violent incidents and the human-rights situation in Xinjiang. A third brother was sentenced to prison last year.
Meanwhile, state news outlet Global Times reported on 25 August that Chinese legislators are considering making it a crime to ‘force others to wear clothes or symbols in public associated with terrorism and extremism’. Xaukat Emen, of the Xinjiang branch of the Communist Party, said veils or other covering clothes worn by women are ‘extremist attire’ and a sign of backwardness. On 24 September, Radio Free Asia reported that 15 Uighur boys’ names and seven girls’ names were banned in Xinjiang’s Hotan prefecture in order to prevent extremism.
A group of 173 Uighur refugees arrived in Turkey on 1 July after being detained in Thailand since their arrest in March 2014. But eight days later, Thailand deported 109 Uighur refugees detained in March 2014 to China. UNHCR criticised the move as a ‘flagrant violation of international law’, and the US State Department called it a ‘grave disappointment’, saying it ‘runs counter to Thailand's international obligations’.
On 13 July Thailand said another 52 Uighurs detained since March 2014 would be deported to Turkey, not China, if they are deemed ‘innocent’. The repatriated Uighurs were detained without charge in Urumqi, where Xinhua reported that those deemed human traffickers would be punished under the law, while those deemed trafficking victims tricked into travelling will be ‘educated’ in their home towns. State media said on 17 July that security forces have killed four Uighurs attempting to flee China since 2014, and ‘found’ 553 others.
A government white paper on human rights in China published on 8 June said ethnic minorities’ freedom of religious belief ‘has been fully guaranteed’. However local authorities in Xinjiang continued to clamp down on observations of Islamic customs, which is widely seen as one of the main drivers of the conflict in Xinjiang.
In April Radio Free Asia reported that Qamber Amber, a Uighur religious scholar, was sentenced at a public trial in Hotan in March to nine years in prison for ‘refusing to cooperate’ with authorities. In an interview about the case a local police official revealed the flexibility local authorities have in dealing with perceived problematic individuals. He said that ‘of course, as in many cases, the charge doesn’t fit with the law, but it syncs very well with several key regulations about maintaining stability, issued by prefectural and regional authorities… there is a footnote to every law which [informs local authorities]: “You can implement this law as needed according to your specific situation.” In our area, stability is the primary goal—that is how we are following the regulations and have not contradicted any law.’
On 29 April the local authorities in Aktash village, a Muslim-majority settlement in Hotan prefecture, ordered shop owners to sell alcohol and cigarettes on threat of closure. A local Communist Party secretary was quoted as saying that ‘we have a campaign to weaken religion here and this is part of that campaign’ – this matches their earlier reported efforts to weaken religious adherence among young Uighurs.
Similar efforts were made in the run-up to Ramadan. Local authorities ordered security personnel to be on heightened alert during the Muslim holy month, which began on 18 June. They also instituted measures to prevent Muslims from observing the traditional fast, such as requiring pupils and students to attend free lunches or promoting increased physical activity. Radio Free Asia, which acquired documents issued by local governments, also reported that authorities should ensure Uighur-owned shops are stocked with alcohol and cigarettes. Searches for contraband in shops and mosques were to be increased. Also in June, five men with beards who had attended unauthorised sermons were put on trial in Kizilsu Kirghiz Autonomous Prefecture for religious extremism.
Restrictions on movement included an order by Ili prefecture authorities on 30 April that all residents hand in their passports to police to help ‘maintain social stability’ or face cancellation of their documents. Those wishing to leave China would need to apply with the police. On 17 April two ‘suspected terrorists’, most likely Uighur refugees, had been shot and killed by police near the border with Vietnam in southwestern Guangxi Province. Similar measures were taken in Aksu prefecture’s Toqsu county, which said on 9 June that all inhabitants between 18 and 65 years of age had been required to take part in forced labour since January in an attempt to prevent illegal activities.
On 8 May it was reported that China had liberalised hukou (household registration) rules in Xinjiang to encourage more migration to the region from elsewhere in China, but it remained difficult for Uighurs to change their hukou. A State Ethnic Affairs Commission official said on 28 May that Xinjiang will have 1,500 bilingual judges who can speak both Mandarin and Uighur by 2020, in order to ‘ensure the ethnic minorities’ legal rights are protected’ which he said would be ‘of great importance to ethnic unity in the region’.
The Uighur academic Ilham Tohti, who was sentenced to life in prison on separatism charges in 2014, has not been allowed to see visitors, or to receive money or clothes from his family, according to reports. The son of the exiled World Uyghur Congress leader Rebiya Kadeer was released by Xinjiang authorities on 31 May, after nine years in prison.
Hundreds of Uighur refugees attempting to reach Turkey through a Southeast Asian route remained in detention in Thailand in what they complain are poor conditions, while some have escaped. The detained refugees are reportedly aided by funds sent from Turkey, but Beijing is demanding they be returned to China, where they could face imprisonment.
The conflict in Xinjiang remained a threat to civilians as militants continued to carry out indiscriminate attacks targeting ethnic Han Chinese; security forces were often heavy-handed; and repression of the local culture by the state continued. Some 58 people, including at least nine civilians, were reported killed this quarter. The Uyghur Human Rights Project said on 3 March that as many as 700 people may have died in ‘political violence’ in Xinjiang in 2013 and 2014.
On 10 January 2015, Xinjiang’s legislature approved a ban on wearing the burqa. This followed edicts last year forbidding veils and beards in certain locations or during certain times.
State media reported on 22 January that more than 27,000 criminal suspects were arrested in 2014 – an increase of 95% from 2013. Much of this increase was thought be from arrests of terrorist suspects during the ‘strike hard’ campaign launched by President Xi Jinping in May 2014. Using different numbers, the Dui Hua Human Rights Journal reported in March that the number of criminal trials concluded in Xinjiang had increased 40% from 2013 to nearly 30,000 such trials in 2014. The journal argued that the statistics suggest an increase in suppression of dissent and activism in Xinjiang.
Authorities in Hotan Prefecture put 25 people on public trial in Qaraqash (Moyu) county on 21 March, for endangering state security by teaching Islam or sending their children to schools that do; all were found guilty. Locals were ordered to attend the trial, according to Radio Free Asia. Three days after the trial, authorities tore down the home of a family in Qaraqash that had reportedly served as an underground religious school. Separately, Radio Free Asia reported that more than half of Hotan’s two million inhabitants do not have access to clean water.
There was also an increase in arrests and violence related to Uighur apparently fleeing conditions in Xinjiang. Ten Turkish and two Chinese nationals were arrested in Shanghai in January for allegedly providing nine Uighurs with false passports. Also in January, two Uighurs were killed by police in Guangxi Province as they attempted to cross into Vietnam. Two days later police said that they were cracking down on ‘jihadi migration’ in southwest China, and that the East Turkestan Islamic Movement is a key player in human trafficking. Uighur refugees arrested in Thailand in 2014 began a hunger strike in protest against the conditions in which they were being held. Two men, including a Uighur, were arrested in Macao on human-trafficking charges in March.
On 26 March, three men were executed for their role in the March 2014 railway station attack in Kunming that killed 31 people.
While the number of fatalities reduced significantly from 175 in the last quarter, the level of risk to civilians from terrorist incidents remained as at least 30 people were killed this quarter. A total of 22 people died in the most serious incident, when 22 people, including four attackers and an unknown number of police officers, attacked a farmer’s market in Kashgar prefecture predominantly frequented by ethnic Han Chinese.
Malaysian authorities arrested 155 Uighur ‘illegal immigrants’, including 76 children, in Kuala Lumpur on 4 October. Malaysia has previously returned Uighur migrants to China, where they would be likely to face persecution. Uighur refugees also turned up in Thailand in April. Additionally, on 21 December police in China’s southwestern province of Guangxi killed one person and detained 21 others, said to be part of a group of ‘religious extremists’ attempting to illegally cross the border into Vietnam. Most of the group were Uighur women and children; the person who was shot and killed reportedly stabbed a police officer.
The exile dissident organisation World Uyghur Congress (WUC) said on 30 October that authorities in the Xinjiang prefectures of Aksu, Hotan and Kashgar were pressuring parents to pledge that their children will not take part in religious activities. Children under 18 years are prevented from entering mosques in what has been reported as a possible attempt to reduce religious adherence among the next generation. A Kashgar court convicted 22 people, including former and unofficial imams, for illegal religious activities on 10 November. On 25 December, it was reported that authorities in Bole county, northwestern Xinjiang had issued a brochure that defined 75 ‘extreme’ forms of religious activity.
Radio Free Asia reported on 17 December that Uighurs in Langru township, Hotan county, risked being erased from household registers and lose their personal property if they fail to respond to calls to appear before the police.
The jailed Uighur scholar and activist Ilham Tohti was given a freedom award in Turkey on 1 November, despite protests by the Chinese embassy in Ankara. But authorities rejected Tohti’s appeal against his indefinite prison sentence for alleged separatist activities on 21 November. A lawyer for Tohti said in December that seven of his students had also been imprisoned for between three to eight years on charges of separatism. The WUC described the sentences as ‘unacceptable’.
Zhu Weiqun, the chair of the ethnic and religious affairs committee of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC), said in a 14 November newspaper article that members of the Communist Party cannot follow any religion.
The danger to civilians escalated as more than 175 people were reported killed – a doubling from the previous quarter. Most of the fatalities were caused by two incidents in Yarkand and Bugur, in which 96 and 50 people died, according to official sources. It is likely that the real number was higher – Uighur exiles said 2,000 died in Yarkand on 28 July and described the incident as a massacre.
On at least two occasions, ethnic Han civilians were targeted. In Aksu prefecture, six farmers and five businessmen were killed within three days of each other in July.
Nine Uighur terror suspects were killed on 1 August - the Hong Kong Information Center for Human Rights and Democracy, an NGO, said police killed the suspects by throwing hand grenades into a house, and that two of the dead were minors. A Uighur farmer was killed by police, who say he resisted arrest, on 16 August. Eyewitnesses to the incident in Aykol township, Aksu prefecture, said he was shot before he had a chance to resist.
State repression remained a significant motivator for conflict. Most significantly, the Uighur intellectual Ilham Tohti, a moderate critic of the government, was sentenced to life in prison on charges of separatism on 23 September, and his personal property was confiscated. On 25 July, 17 people who protested the killing of a teenager shot while running a red light in Aksu prefecture in April were convicted of ‘crimes against the state’, and given sentences ranging from six months to seven years.
Restrictions on Uighurs in Xinjiang increased, though some measures were temporary. The US State Department, in its annual report on religious freedom, said the Chinese government ‘severely restricts the religious practices of Uyghyr [sic] Muslims’, increasing the potential for religious extremism. In July, a college in Kashgar reportedly forbade Muslim students from fasting during Ramadan, and forced them to accept free food and water or face being expelled. A Kashgar official was fired in August for openly practising religion.
The wearing of burqas, hijabs, veils and beards were banned from buses and ‘public areas’ in Karamay during the 4–20 August Xinjiang Games. Burqas are not traditionally worn in Xinjiang, but have reportedly become more popular as a political statement.
An essay by Zhang Chunxian, Communist Party head in Xinjiang, appeared to signal plans to reduce the number of children Uighur couples are allowed to have. The essay, published on 6 August, describes plans to implement equal family planning policies for all ethnicities in the province. Currently, Uighurs are allowed to have three children in the countryside, or two if they live in the city – one more child than permitted for Xinjiang’s majority Han population in both cases.
On 21 August, Bayingol prefecture authorities launched a new policy of annual cash payments of RMB 10,000 for five years to couples in which one partner is from an ethnic minority group and the other is Han Chinese. Critics said the move was part of a policy of forced assimilation.
In a significant escalation of violence, at least 91 people were killed this quarter. This figure does not include 13 executions for terrorist attacks and violent crimes in Xinjiang. Most of these deaths stemmed from indiscriminate attacks on public places, with insurgents not reticent about causing civilian casualties. Forty-three people, including four perpetrators, died in a single attack on a market in Urumqi on 22 May.
An attack on a train station in Urumqi during President Xi Jinping’s visit to the city on 30 April killed one civilian and two perpetrators; other assailants escaped. On 9 May a local police chief in Shayar county, Aksu prefecture was quoted as saying that more than 100 relatives of a suspect in the attack had been arrested. Most of the detainees were women and children.
The underlying human-rights related grievances for Uighurs in Xinjiang did not change, and may have worsened following increased security measures instigated by Beijing and/or local authorities. These apparently included an exhortation by officials in Shayar county for locals to report on suspicious activity in exchange for rewards. In addition to information on undertakings such as planning attacks or keeping weapons, the local government sought intelligence on men growing long beards, women wearing veils, and youths under 18 visiting mosques.
Such policies – at odds with Beijing’s stated aim of harmonious relations between ethnic groups – were claimed to have triggered at least three violent incidents. On 20 May, police fired at protesters in Kucha county, Aksu prefecture. The crowd was reportedly objecting to the detention of women and school girls for wearing headscarves. The protesters beat an official and threw stones before police reportedly opened fire, killing up to four people. Two incidents in Kashgar and Hotan prefectures in June killed 11; six police officers and five Uighurs. Both clashes were said to have been preceded by officials harassing veiled women.
The police killing of a young motorcyclist who ran a red light in Kalpin county on 12 April led to protests, after which authorities launched a crackdown. More than 50 of the reported 500 protesters were reportedly arrested. Also in April, police in Toksun county arrested about 100 people who wore beards or veils after an imam was dismissed by authorities for listening to ‘illegal religious’ recordings.
The World Uyghur Congress criticised the Chinese government’s security campaign, notably the large numbers of arrests, and said ‘a crackdown will merely prolong a cycle of violence’.
Uighur refugees fled to Southeast Asia, though the Financial Times reported on 3 April that Chinese authorities were putting pressure on Thailand to return more than 400 Uighur immigrants discovered there. Another 16 refugees, including ten children, were arrested and charged with illegal entry into Thailand on 24 April.
Condemning the brutal Kunming attack in March that killed 29 civilians, the World Uyghur Congress warned of a renewed crackdown on Uighurs. Radio Free Asia reported on 12 March that hundreds of Uighurs had been deported from Yunnan to Xinjiang following the train-station massacre.
Reporters Sans Frontieres criticised China for censoring press coverage from Kunming. It ranked the country 175 out of 180 countries in its 2014 press freedom index.
Militants in Xinjiang have been resorting to unorthodox methods; attacking security personnel with vehicle-borne gas cylinders. One Uighur was killed in a night-time house-to-house check by police.
In January, a Uighur academic living in Beijing was detained and charged with separatism. Ilham Tohti is known for being critical of the government’s ethnic policies, but not for promoting separatism. On 6 March, the head of the Xinjiang regional government, Nur Bekri, said the arrest complied with Chinese law and that Tohti had formed a separatist group. Bekri also blamed foreign forces for unrest in Xinjiang and said that those who blame China’s ethnic policy for unrest have ulterior motives. On 31 March, Tohti was awarded a human-rights prize by writers’ campaign group PEN America, something China denounced as ‘interference’.
Eleven Uighurs were killed crossing into Kyrgyzstan in January. Although Kyrgyz authorities described them as militants, the World Uyghur Congress (WUC) suggested they may have been refugees escaping repression. It called for an investigation. The group said that China and Krygzstan’s close relationship, via the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) regional grouping to fight terrorism and separatism, ‘raised questions’ about the reported facts of the case. WUC President Rebiya Kadeer said Kyrgyzstan was ‘an important conduit through which Uyghur refugees can escape the repression to which they are subjected’ in Xinjiang.
In March, some 400 suspected Uighur refugees were detained in southern Thailand; Beijing was reportedly asking Thailand to repatriate them.
January – July
The human security situation in Xinjiang remained fragile as restrictions on the freedom of expression and religion continued. There was an estimated 69 fatalities from January to July; however, the accuracy of this figure is questionable due to conflicting reports emerging from the region.
There was growing international concern over restrictions placed on practicing Muslims in Xinjiang. Reports from the region indicated that Muslims under the age of 18 were forbidden to fast during Ramadan this year. Additionally, women wearing veils were prohibited from entering some state and commercial buildings such as petrol stations, post offices, libraries and banks. In late May and early June it was reported that women who choose to wear a veil were being punished by authorities by having their pilgrimage to Mecca disallowed and marriage applications unauthorised. Uighurs were not only facing religious and social restrictions, but economic ones too, with new laws introduced in May banning Uighurs from selling food outside mosques in Shanghai. Radio Free Asia reported that authorities in Xinjiang began keeping registers of religious believers in the region.
The Chinese government released a statement saying that these new measures were undertaken to encourage people to change their attitudes towards the Communist Party’s policies on ethnicity and religion. The World Uyghur Congress and Human Rights Watch said that many of these actions were open discrimination.
Concerns were also raised over legal discrimination against Uighurs. Additionally, Uighurs protested against the arrests of several Islamic religious leaders. On 30 June, police fired into a crowd of approximately 400 Uighurs who were protesting the arrest of a young religious leader and the subsequent forced closure of a mosque.
Authorities continued to dismiss claims of religious persecution and maintained that all citizens in Xinjiang enjoy equal treatment and opportunities. Yang Jiechi, Chinese State councillor, made a similar statement in July saying that Uighurs enjoyed ‘happiness and unprecedented freedom’. However, reports from independent sources indicate otherwise.
The human security situation in Xinjiang continues to be defined by a curtailment of freedom of expression and religion. Although exact figures for those killed in violent incidents remain difficult to verify, at least 38 people died in 2012.
The arrest of Uighur activists continued and in February, a violent incident which left more than 20 people dead led to the detaining of 84 people. Five Uighur activists were arrested in March for allegedly using the internet to incite separatism and spread information harmful to national security and stability. In June, a group of Uighurs who were demonstrating in Beijing say they were attacked by police after refusing to leave the camp which they had set up. In August, 20 individuals were arrested and sentenced for terrorism and separatist activities. The World Uyghur Congress said the Chinese government uses terrorism as an excuse to punish Uighurs who do not agree with the system.
In July, the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) urged ‘an end to all violence and restrictions on peaceful religious activity in China’s Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region (XUAR)’. USCIRF said that religious freedom conditions have declined dramatically in recent years. Throughout the year, there have been a number of instances of arrests made due to what authorities have deemed ‘illegal religious activities’, but what the World Uyghur Congress has referred to as Koran-study sessions. In one incident in June, 17 people were injured, including 12 children, in an incident at an Islamic school which police called an ‘illegal religious study centre’. Police say they were attempting to free children who were being held captive when criminal suspects ignited a flammable explosive device whereas the World Uyghur Congress maintains that the children were hurt when police threw tear gas into the school.
USCIRF also noted the prevention of civil servants, teachers and other employees of the state from observing Ramadan, particularly by preventing individuals from fasting. Although the majority of incidents have involved Islam, in July, a number of Christian news agencies reported that police had raided a Protestant Christian summer camp near Urumqi, arresting seven teachers and detaining 70 students. In December, the withholding of passports for Uighurs became a prominent issue when a Uighur university student began on online campaign on the Sina Weibo microblogging service in protest against Chinese authorities’ repeated refusals to issue her a passport so that she could study abroad.
Official reports of incidents in the province are often contrary to those of the World Uyghur Congress and other organisations such as Radio Free Asia. As freedom of the press continues to be curtailed, differing accounts of incidents related to the Uighur separatist movement remain difficult to independently verify. In September, the Xinhua News Agency launched a Uighur-language online news service. The World Uyghur Congress described the development as a government propaganda blitz.
The human security situation in Xinjiang deteriorated in 2011, and there was a significant increase in the number of conflict-related fatalities when compared with 2010. Thirty-seven people were killed in violent incidents, thirty-five of whom were civilians.
A number of prominent Uighur activists were arrested and tried in 2011. In March, a Uighur historian who ran the popular website, Orkhun, was sentenced to seven years in jail following a closed trial on unknown charges. In addition, a number of Uighurs were sentenced to death in 2011. In February, Xinjiang reported that China’s Supreme Court had sentenced four Uighur men to death for ‘terrorist violence’, allegedly for involvement in a 19 August 2009 bomb attack in Urumqi which killed eight and wounded 15. In August, following violent incidents in Hotan and Kashgar, four men were sentenced to death for their alleged involvement and two others were given life sentences. Police were also responsible for the killing of two people suspected of having been involved in the violence in Xinjiang in July. Chinese authorities also detained at least six people following the appearance of leaflets in Aksu city in July calling for independence from Beijing.
The Chinese government undertook a number of repressive measures in Xinjiang province in 2011. In January, authorities in Xinjiang announced that they would be installing tens of thousands of security cameras in Urumqi. In the same month Chinese authorities began to implement new controls on the content of text messages sent to mobile phones. Banned terms included “Xinjiang independence” and “anti-corruption. The move was followed by a crackdown on Uighur-language publications.
The New York-based media watchdog Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) released its annual report for 2010 in February. In the report it identified China as the country with the largest number of jailed journalists. It claimed that the number of journalists imprisoned in China had increased as a result of a spate of detentions of Uighur and Tibetan journalists that began in the latter half of 2009 and continued into 2010. In April, the US State Department released its annual report on human rights practices. It stated that the Chinese government ‘continued its severe cultural and religious repression of ethnic minorities in Xinjiang’ in 2010, with abuses peaking around high-profile events. While launching the report Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said that in China, the ‘negative trends [were] appearing to worsen in the first part of 2011’. China responded by saying that the US should stop interfering in the internal affairs of other nations and using human rights as an excuse to do so. To mark the second anniversary of the ethnic riots in Xinjiang in July, Amnesty International released a report saying that China was still silencing critics who had highlighted government excesses during and after the riots. The report stated that managers of ethnic Uighur websites had been jailed for talking to foreign media and that Uighurs had become a minority in their own homeland.
The situation in Xinjiang remained calm in 2010 despite fears that violence would mark the one-year anniversary of deadly riots in Urumqi in July. The only exception was an attack in Aksu in August that killed seven people and injured 14 others, the majority of them Uighurs.
Amnesty International joined World Uighur Congress (WUC) President Rebiya Kadeer in voicing concern about the approximately 1,000 people detained in the wake of ethnic violence in July 2009. The organisation challenged the official Chinese version of events in Xinjiang, saying that police used unnecessary force against the Uighurs, as well as mass arrests and torture. According to official statistics, at least 198 people have been sentenced, with nine executed and 26 others sentenced to death. While Amnesty called for an independent inquiry into events, the Chinese government blamed the Uighur population for the violence, saying the majority of those killed were Han Chinese.
In January, Human Rights Watch (HRW) criticised Cambodia’s decision to repatriate ethnic Uighurs against their will. The group said 20 Uighurs, including two young children, were repatriated back to China in December 2009 as a result of Chinese government pressure, in contravention of a series of UN conventions on refugees ratified by Cambodia. HRW spokesperson Sophie Richardson said Uighur asylum seekers sent back to China by Cambodia have disappeared into ‘a black hole’. She added there was little or no information available about their whereabouts, no notification of any legal charges against them, and no guarantees they are safe from ill-treatment. The Chinese government did not comment on the issue, making it impossible to verify the reports.
The clampdown on media continued in 2010. Three webmasters of Uighur websites were detained after the 2009 riots and jailed up to 10 years on charges of endangering national security. Similar accusations were levelled against Uighur journalists publishing critical reports and comments in the foreign media following the riots in Urumqi. In March, the Chinese government banned media from reporting on 18 subjects, including events in Tibet and Xinjiang.
In 2009 Uighur activists, human-rights organisations and the Swedish presidency of the European Union condemned China's decision to execute nine people in connection with major rioting in Xinjiang in July. This contrasted with a wider international acceptance of China's immediate actions to quell the inter-ethnic violence between Uighurs and Han Chinese. According to government figures, the clashes left 197 people dead and another 1,700 injured. An additional five people were killed and 14 injured when thousands of Han Chinese gathered to protest a mysterious series of syringe attacks in September. As well as the nine people executed after the July riots, two Uighurs were put to death in April, in connection with an attack just before the 2008 Beijing Olympics.
It is unclear how many Uighurs and Han Chinese were killed in July's riots. According to the Chinese government, the majority – at least 137 – of those killed were Han Chinese. However, on a visit to Japan in July, the exiled Uighur leader Rebiya Kadeer claimed that 'nearly 10,000' Uighurs had disappeared 'overnight' in Xinjiang's capital, Urumqi. Her comments enraged Beijing, which strongly refuted the claim.
More than 1,400 were arrested during the riots, and another 250 taken into custody in subsequent weeks and months. Li Zhi, the local Communist chief, warned that those found guilty of killings would be executed. In August, the trials began of 200 people on charges ranging from vandalising public property and robbery to arson and murder. In November, nine of these –eight Uighurs and one Han Chinese man – were convicted and put to death. Another 19 people were sent to prison. This was followed by death sentences for a further eight in December and the arrests of another 94 people.
The EU Swedish Presidency issued a statement condemning the Xinjiang executions and calling on China to abolish the death penalty. The Uighur American Association, another organisation headed by World Uighur Congress (WUC) president Rebiya Kadeer, claimed there was an 'absence of an open trial'. In late November, after meetings with the UNPO (Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organization) and the WUC, the European Parliament adopted a broad resolution decrying recent executions relating to both the July unrest in Xinjiang and to violence in Tibet in 2008. 'The EU respects China's right to bring those responsible for violent action to justice but reaffirms its longstanding opposition to the use of the death penalty under all circumstances,' Sweden said in a statement as the holder of the rotating European Presidency. The resolution called upon Beijing to commute all death sentences and 'make every effort to develop a genuine Han–Uighur dialogue'.
The November executions came shortly after China announced a 'strike hard and punish' campaign to 'help maintain stability and eliminate security dangers in Xinjiang'. An Asia expert at campaigning organisation Human Rights Watch (HRW) said 'strike hard' campaigns long had been a regular occurrence in Xinjiang and tended to shorten the judicial process, led to more summary proceedings and increased the instances of collective sentencing.
In an October report, HRW said 43 named Uighur men and teenaged boys remained unaccounted for after being detained in the wave of arrests during and after July's violence. It believed these disappearances were 'just the tip of the iceberg'.
After the riots, the government completely shut down the Internet in many parts of Xinjiang, blocked social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter, and placed limits on mobile phone services to restrict the spread of news about the unrest. Limited Internet access was restored at the end of December, but the UK's Foreign and Commonwealth Office was still warning travellers that SMS and international phone services remained inoperational in Xianjing.
The Chinese government kept up its pressure on exiled Uighur businesswoman and rights activist Rebiya Kadeer and countries that granted her visas, such as Japan and Australia. Kadeer was denied entry to Taiwan on September on the grounds that her visit could affect the country's national interest and social order. In late August, Beijing said it was planning to demolish Kadeer’s family home. Citing health and safety considerations in September, it ordered the demolition of the six-storey Rebiya Trade Centre in Urumqi. Kadeer built this commercial building in the 1990s when she was China's richest woman and considered by officials as a model of economic success and ethnic integration.
There were concerns about Chinese actions in Xinjiang before the July riots. Uighur residents were unhappy about a plan in late March to move 50,000 people out of Kashgar's old city into modern apartment buildings and demolish parts of the ancient quarter. Officials said that the residences in old Kashgar –home to 220,000 people or 42% of the city population – were fire hazards and at risk from earthquakes. But residents protested that old Kashgar was a centre of Uighur history and culture. A week later, human-rights activists claimed that authorities had closed at least seven unregistered Islamic schools in Xinjiang's northwest and arrested 39 people in house-to-house searches. The government denied closing any religious schools.
Several Uighurs were imprisoned in February and March, including a man convicted of organising large protests in Khotan in March 2008, and another for raising the flag of East Turkestan near a statue of Mao Zedong, the former Chinese Communist Party leader. A third Uighur was detained and accused of posting a report on the Internet in January about 500 Uighurs demonstrating against a supposed murder in Xinjiang.
A report published on 4 January into China's pre-Olympics security crackdown said that in the first 11 months of 2008 more than 1,295 Uighurs were arrested on suspicion of 'endangering state security' and 1,154 indicted. This was considerably up on the 742 people detained throughout China on the same charge in 2007. Campaigning group Human Rights Watch said that about half of those arrested in 2007 were Uighurs.
There were 42 reported fatalities in the conflict between the Chinese government and Uighur separatists from China's autonomous Xinjiang Province in 2008. This is a notable increase from fatality figures in 2007, which can be explained by the increased tensions and unrest related to the Beijing Olympic Games. In 2008, China arrested almost 1,300 people for terrorism, religious extremism or other state security charges in the western region of Xinjiang, where ethnic Uighurs continued to complain for political and religious repression. The Procurational Daily said that the arrests followed China’s intention to “maintain social stability” for the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games in August.
A wave of unrest erupted in the region of Xinjiang ahead of the Games, mainly sparked by Uighurs Muslim separatists. Ahead of the games, authorities were ordered to be severe with terrorist, separatist and religious extremist forces (the ‘three evil forces’). According to the paper Procurational Daily, this policy resulted in the arrest of 1,295 suspects, 1,154 of which were formally charged and faced trials. This number is nearly double the total of similar arrest for the whole of China in 2007 and has yet to be verified. An expert on Xinjiang at Human Rights Watch said that the numbers were so incredibly high that, if true, would represent a real turning point. He however added that it was possible that they were referring to the total number of convictions under the campaign against the three “evil forces”, including things such as illegal religious assembly. About half the state security arrests in 2007 occurred in Xinjiang. International human-rights organisations used the international spotlight generated by the upcoming Games to highlight China’s poor human-rights record and its treatment of ethnic and religious minorities, including the Uighurs. There were claims that the Chinese authorities were using the Games as an opportunity to crack down more intensively on rebel minorities.
Uighurs held at Guantanamo Bay scored a major legal victory on 23 June when a US federal appeals court ruled that one of the 17 Uighurs held at the detention base had been improperly labelled as an ‘enemy combatant’ when he was arrested. The FBI released information showing that Chinese Uighurs held at Guantanamo were kept awake, deprived of food and held in cold conditions prior to questioning by Chinese officials. The Uighurs were meant to be released but the White House appealed in October, saying the original ruling - the first of its kind - could set a dangerous precedent.
There were 18 fatalities in 2007 in the conflict between the Chinese government and Uighur separatists. The majority were inflicted in the course of a military operation against a suspected terrorist camp near the border with Pakistan on 9 January.
In February, the Chinese authorities executed an ethnic Uighur on charges of attempting to 'split the motherland' and possession of explosives. According to media reports from the region, two other Uighurs who had testified against the man were subsequently executed. In November, a local court in Kashgar, Xinjiang, sentenced three alleged members of the East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM) to death. Two others received suspended death sentences, and a sixth man was sentenced to life imprisonment. The six were accused of illegally making explosives. Rozi Ismail, the chief judge of Xinjiang, said that courts in the region would put pressure on the 'three evil forces' of terrorism, separatism and extremism. According to Ismail, those found to be involved in such activities would face severe penalties, including capital punishment.
Chinese law-enforcement measures continued to cause concern among human-rights groups. A request from China to Pakistan for the deportation of 22 alleged members of the ETIM was vehemently opposed by Amnesty International at the end of June. The group objected to the extraditions on the grounds that the individuals concerned would face extreme danger, including the possible use of capital punishment, upon their return to China. Meanwhile, a Human Rights Watch report released in August claimed that China had shown no signs of improving its human-rights record ahead of the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games. Rather, China appeared to be cracking down on dissidents prior to the Games. Ethnic Uighurs were a notable target of such policies.
There is no information available about the number of refugees or internally displaced persons caused by the dormant conflict in the Xinjiang province.
There were no reported fatalities in the conflict between the government and the East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM) or the Eastern Turkestan Liberation Organisation (ETLO) in 2006. However, obtaining information is difficult. The Chinese government did not report any incidents relating to terrorism during the year. Human-rights groups continued to voice concerns regarding the Chinese government’s discriminatory treatment of the Uighur population, and several activists and their relatives were arrested for their activities in Xinjiang. Towards the end of the year, the Xinjiang Department of Health reported that nearly 6,000 people were infected with HIV/AIDS in 2006, highlighting the increasing danger the virus poses to the region.
There were no reported fatalities in the conflict between the government and the East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM) or the Eastern Turkestan Liberation Organisation (ETLO) in 2005. However, obtaining information on Xinjiang is difficult. Human-rights groups alleged that the Chinese authorities were using abuse and discrimination against the Uighur population. In the second quarter of 2005, the Chinese government is believed to have forcefully relocated Uighurs to cities outside of the provincial capital Urumqi.
There was minimal documented physical conflict in Xinjiang region. However, there have been several armed skirmishes with the government involving local Uighur. On 16 June, hundreds of citizens protested outside government offices in Yili county, objecting to plans to displace about 18,000 farmers, forestry workers and herders. At least 16 protestors were arrested by local police.
Clashes also occurred between different ethnic groups. On 1 November such clashes were witnessed between the Muslim Hui minority and Han majority in Henan province. It is believed that up to seven people were killed and up to forty more were injured. It is unknown whether the incident in Henan province was linked to the Uighurs. However riot police in the southern Chinese city of Guangzhou clashed with a crowd of approximately 70 Uighur Muslims following a dispute in a market place in the city. Several people were apparently hurt in the incident. It is likely that clashes between different ethnic minorities will increase in the future as the Chinese government relaxes the regulation controlling population movement.
Although several known clashes occurred in 2004, there are few statistics on Uighur separatists who died a result of being sentenced to death by the government.
There is no available reliable information on the situation of refugees or internally displaced persons (IDPs) for 2004.
Given the limited amount of information emanating from Xinjiang, it is difficult to assess the number of fatalities caused by military or separatist action. The Chinese government has not reported any incidents of terrorist violence or cases of individuals being arrested, imprisoned and executed. International human-rights organisations estimate that, based on data obtained in previous years, 2,000 suspected Uighur separatists have been killed and hundreds more have been sent to jail. What is known is that, since 11 September 2001, China has been increasingly active in clamping down on separatism, particularly in its predominantly Muslim, western provinces. A government Strike Hard campaign has permitted the authorities to crack down aggressively on freedom of religion, closing mosques in Xinjiang and relocating members of the Islamic clergy. The campaign has also facilitated the routine suppression of any perceived form of opposition, including music and poetry that is deemed seditious.
No information is available for this period. However, approximately 500,000 Uighurs were still living in exile, mainly in Central Asia and the former Soviet Republics.
There has been little to no information about terrorist acts in Xinjiang in recent years. Nevertheless, the Chinese government has intensified its brutal campaign to quash terrorism and separatist sentiment in the autonomous region − known as Strike Hard, Severe Suppression.
Although no concrete figures can be obtained, based on previous years, it can be estimated that approximately 100 people have been killed, most likely those Muslims who the Chinese authorities are trying to suppress. The Eastern Turkestan Information Centre (ETIC) reports that thousands of Uighurs are being held in jail for ‘political crimes’ and ‘illegal religious activities’. Over 100 have received death sentences and suffered public executions. In an unprecedented move, probably to rally domestic and international support for its oft-criticised repression campaign, China released a lengthy report on 21 January 2002 that outlined the activities of Uighur separatist groups from 1990 to 2001. Beijing reported that ‘East Turkestan terrorist forces’, both within and without Chinese territory, were responsible for over 200 terrorist incidents during this period, ranging from assassinations and bomb attacks to arson in Xinjiang. These acts resulted in the deaths of 162 people of all ethnic groups. More than 440 people were injured.
After the 11 September attacks, China branded the Uighurs as ‘terrorists’ and intensified the fight against them with the implementation of a series of anti-terrorist measures. This led to an unknown number of Uighurs fleeing the country. Thousands reportedly went to Pakistan, triggering a harsh reaction: several Uighur refugees were forcibly repatriated by Pakistan to China and were victims of abuse. The United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) reported that refugees in Central Asia were increasingly subjected to restrictive measures. It stressed that it was concerned about Uighur and Chechen refugees in Kazakhstan, as they had difficulties in gaining access to registration and documentation. It was reported that approximately 700 Uighurs were living in Kazakhstan without the refugee status.
The Uighur opposition was in exile, mostly in Turkey, Germany and the United States. Some Uighurs applied for asylum in Kirgystan, but this country, as it had bilateral agreements with China, did not grant them refugee status.
At best, information on fatalities due to the ongoing independence struggle in Xinjiang is sketchy, as it has been relatively difficult for third parties to obtain accurate data. Pro-separatist groups, such as the Munich-based East Turkestan Information Centre (ETIC) are inclined to provide numbers backed by little evidence. By contrast, the Chinese government has tended to keep silent on the issue.
The ETIC stated that approximately 10,000 Uighurs were arrested between March 2000 and August 2001 on charges relating to ‘national separatism’ and ‘illegal religious activities’. It also notes that, in the same period, some 1,500 Uighurs died in Chinese prisons as a result of execution or torture. The start of the government’s Strike Hard anti-crime campaign in April saw an increased number of Uighurs sentenced to death − around 30 in one week in the middle of that month.
According to the ETIC, the second phase of Strike Hard, implemented in May−June 2001, sought ‘to catch and punish those who escaped from the first net’. At least five Uighurs were sentenced to death on charges pertaining to ‘national separatism’ and ‘activities to split the country’. Between April and June 2001, the ETIC estimated that several thousand people were detained, 500 were imprisoned and 100 were executed.
Third parties like Amnesty International and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) do not have concrete statistics on the number of deaths resulting from clashes between Uighur separatists and Chinese government forces. Since January 1997, Amnesty has recorded the passing of some 210 death sentences in the region, of which 190 were carried out shortly afterwards. It believes these figures could be even higher. The US Department of State also acknowledges difficulty in determining accurately the total number of people killed or sentenced to death in the region. It is especially tricky when the Chinese government denies detaining political or religious prisoners, but, instead, contends that such people are being held due to violations of the law. The government also considers the number of death sentences that it carries out to be a state secret. Between April and September, the US Department of State estimated (based on domestic press reports) that over 2,000 people had been executed in China overall.
It was reported that approximately 500,000 Uighurs were living in exile, mainly in Central Asia and the former Soviet Republics.