Aug 18, 2011

East Turkestan: “Strike Hard” Campaign To Oppress Uyghur Society

Following continued protests and arbitrary arrests in the region, Chinese authorities have imposed further restrictions and security forces upon Xinjiang. Led by elite “counter-terrorism” units, the initiative will enforce a clamping down of peaceful protest against Beijing’s assimilative policies.

Below is a statement released by the Uyghur American Association

A new “Strike Hard” campaign announced by regional authorities presages a brutal campaign of arrests and enforced disappearances in East Turkestan, as officials pledge to accelerate trials, step up criminal investigations, and conduct round-the-clock police patrols and street searches. The campaign follows the recent deployment of an elite counter-terrorism unit that is charged with carrying out “anti-terrorist missions” in Kashgar and Hotan. The Uyghur American Association (UAA) believes that Chinese officials are using the campaign as a pretext to clamp down on the broader Uyghur population and stamp out even the most peaceful forms of dissent and expressions of Uyghur identity.

In addition, UAA fears that heightened security in the region, which began in the middle of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, will result in egregious human rights abuses against the Uyghur population and worsen existing tensions, without addressing the root causes of unrest that most recently manifested itself in unrest in the cities of Kashgar and Hotan. The new crackdown and recent unrest in East Turkestan also reflects a failure of Xinjiang Party Secretary Zhang Chunxian to design policies moving toward genuine peace and stability in the region, despite his image as a comparatively liberal leader. Zhang has, instead, reverted to the same heavy-handed, brutal tactics of his predecessor Wang Lequan, who was reviled by both Uyghur and Han Chinese residents of the region.

Citing the Xinjiang government website, Radio Free Asia (RFA) on August 16 [2011] reported that 39 checkpoints would be set up by security forces in the regional capital of Urumchi under the “Strike Hard” campaign, and that harsher penalties would be imposed during the campaign for crimes ranging from theft to “endangering state security”.

“The Uyghur people do not view “Strike Hard” campaigns as being designed to protect them,” said Uyghur American Association president Alim Seytoff.  “Rather, they see the campaigns as politicized, aggressive efforts to criminalize ordinary Uyghur activity. Uyghurs see them as part of a never-ending cycle of arrests and repression of their friends and loved ones. Chinese repression of dissent under such campaigns only serves to further alienate Uyghurs from society, and does nothing to ease long-standing political, social and economic grievances in the region.”

An article published on August 15 [2011] and subsequently removed from the People’s Daily website announced that a “Strike Hard Campaign”, launched by Xinjiang public security officials, would be conducted from August 11 to October 15 [2011]in East Turkestan in order to strengthen anti-terrorism efforts. The article stressed that terrorist suspects would be subject to “quick and severe punishment” after being arrested; “illegal religious activities” would be suppressed, and all types of “illegal criminal activities” online would be cracked down upon. The report continues by stating that 24-hour-patrols would be conducted, including by plainclothes police squads in key areas, and that checks of “suspicious” vehicles and individuals would be carried out in order to deter and combat a variety of criminal activities.

As noted by Human Rights Watch Asia researcher Nicholas Bequelin in the Guardian newspaper, “Strike Hard” campaigns consistently result in accelerated judicial proceedings, a lower threshold for arrests and convictions, and a higher number of people who are sentenced. Human Rights Watch also documented the way in which Xinjiang judicial authorities accelerated trials for individuals tried in connection with July 2009 unrest in Urumchi, stating that criminal suspects had been tried under the “three fast” principle (san kuai yuanze): “fast review, fast arrest and fast prosecution,” according to instructions from Party leadership.

The use of anti-crime initiatives to persecute peaceful online activism has resulted in the imprisonment of numerous peaceful Uyghur activists since July 2009, including webmasters Dilshat Perhat, Nureli, and Nijat Azat, all of whom were convicted on charges of “endangering state security”. Campaigns against “illegal religious activities” have resulted in harsh restrictions on Uyghurs’ observance of their Islamic faith, such as in the spring of 2009, when authorities in Kashgar and Hotan clamped down on peaceful religious activities in the lead-up to the 60th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic of China.

The People’s Daily article stated that under the new campaign, authorities hoped to prevent “large-scale mass incidents”  from occurring during the upcoming China-Eurasia Expo, set to take place in Urumchi in early September, and China’s National Day, which is observed on October 1 each year, and to protect regional security during this sensitive time period.

The “Strike Hard” campaign is being implemented in the wake of attacks that took place in July 2011 in Kashgar and Hotan, resulting in the deaths and injuries of dozens of people. The attacks took place against a backdrop of heavy-handed repression of Uyghurs carried out by the Chinese government. Details of the attacks remain unclear, and no independent sources have confirmed the details of the incidents.

Chinese officials have labeled the reported attacks in Kashgar and Hotan as terrorist incidents. However, Chinese authorities consistently issue accounts of events involving Uyghurs in East Turkestan that are not substantiated by compelling evidence. The Chinese government follows a pattern of issuing such accounts accompanied by accusations of terrorism and charges that outside forces were to blame for orchestrating violence. It also has a record of failing to allow journalists to freely report on such events.

Accounts provided by Uyghur residents of Hotan to the World Uyghur Congress (WUC) and RFA regarding the unrest in Hotan on July 18 detail deadly force used by Chinese security forces against Uyghurs, and describe a peaceful demonstration that took place in a local bazaar. Uyghurs in Hotan told WUC that local Uyghurs had gathered on July 18 to protest a security clampdown in the city, arbitrary detentions and the confiscation of land. Uyghurs also told WUC that more than70 people had been arrested in connection with events in Hotan, and roadblocks were implemented on all roads leading to the city.

Some Chinese activists have criticized the Chinese government’s policy toward Uyghurs, and say that the unrest in Kashgar and Hotan reflects the government’s policy failures. Military affairs analyst Huang Dong, as cited by RFA, said that Chinese oppression would only serve to exacerbate the situation. Author Jing Chu, based in Guangxi Province, told RFA that Chinese officials “should reflect deeply on their policies towards ethnic minorities.” He said that Chinese officials should allow freedom of information, and a full and free debate, instead of stifling public debate on ethnic conflicts, making it difficult to find a solution.

In November 2009, Chinese authorities launched a “Strike Hard” campaign to continue carrying out detentions of people deemed suspects in the July 2009 unrest in Urumchi, though mass arrests and detentions of Uyghurs had already been carried out through security sweeps and targeted raids. During this and other “Strike Hard” campaigns, Uyghur students have been required to attend intensive ideological education classes, and residents of East Turkestan have been subjected to a barrage of propaganda.

The Chinese government has used frequent “Strike Hard” campaigns to target many peaceful expressions of Uyghur identity inside East Turkestan. Since September 11,Amnesty International has documented that, under these types of campaigns, “tens of thousands of people are reported to have been detained for investigation in the region, and hundreds, possibly thousands, have been charged or sentenced under the Criminal Law; many Uighurs are believed to have been sentenced to death and executed for alleged “separatist” or “terrorist” offences.”

Traditionally, “Strike Hard” campaigns in East Turkestan are known to exacerbate Chinese government authorities’ tendency to over-state the seriousness of a perceived crime. “Strike Hard” campaigns are generally typified by arbitrary punishments and an increased use of the death penalty.


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