Feb 17, 2014

East Turkestan: Beijing Continues Oppression Against Uyghurs

China is using the pretext of terrorism and extremism in order to repress Uyghur people in the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region. The Uyghurs maintain that the detained local people are innocent and non-violent.

Below is an article published by The Asahi Shimbun:

With the Xi administration citing threats of terrorism and extremism to put the squeeze on ethnic Uighurs, tensions are rising sharply in the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region.

Local anger was fueled after a mosque in a farming area of this southern city in the autonomous region was declared off-limits.

"It is a major problem for our religious activity," a disgruntled 32-year-old Uighur man told The Asahi Shimbun.

According to residents, the authorities turned up at the mosque last June 28 [2013] and ordered a halt to the proceedings, saying they constituted an illegal religious activity.

Angry residents headed for the local government office to protest, but many were detained by police in the ensuing clash. Some are believed to have been injured or killed, although exact numbers remain unknown.

Access to the mosque was initially restricted. The door to the facility has been locked since earlier this year.

A couple said their 27-year-old son is still being detained, ostensibly on grounds he illegally spread extreme religious beliefs.

The father, who is 65, said the authorities removed his son from his post as a religious leader in May. He said his son was detained after he was summoned to a police station following the June 28 clash.

"Our son did nothing wrong," said the mother, 57, crying. "He is innocent."

A Uighur man in his 20s said the authorities have applied greater pressure on the ethnic minority since the incident, swooping on people's homes abruptly and demanding IDs on the streets.

"Uighur public servants are not promoted forever," said the man, who has an education-related job in Hotan. "When Han and Uighur people quarrel, police only detain and question Uighurs."

In Shihezi, a two-hour drive from Urumqi, the capital of the autonomous region, a Uighur man expressed anger at a project to demolish a traditional graveyard for Uighurs and open a shopping center, among other facilities, on the site.

"It may be a different story if they are building an airport, a school or roads," the 45-year-old, whose parents and grandparents are buried there, told The Asahi Shimbun. "But I am opposed if the plan is for a private enterprise."

According to media reports and other sources, the local government has approved the project, in which a developer is investing 2 billion yuan (33.5 billion yen, or $330 million).

The graveyard is said to be 200 to 300 years old. Some graves have already been dismantled.

Opposition to the project first flared in late 2012. Demonstrations and sit-ins have involved up to 1,000 people at a time.

A 47-year-old Uighur man has more than 10 relatives buried there.

"No consideration has been given to Muslims," he said. "I doubt that the interests of a developer are so important."

Oppression against Uighurs continues elsewhere in the country.

Ilham Tohti, 45, a prominent Uighur economist calling for fair political treatment of the ethnic minority, was detained in Beijing on Jan. 15 [2014].

His family has never been told where he is or what wrong he allegedly committed. Even lawyers have been denied access on grounds he is under investigation.

Supporters are concerned that the authorities are moving to charge him with serious political offenses.

The Urumqi public security bureau said on its blog Jan. 25 [2014] there is hard evidence that Tohti was involved in separatist activities. It accused him of calling for violent strife by Uighurs in university classes.

Tohti came under pressure after a vehicle deliberately rammed an area of Beijing's Tiananmen Square last October. Several people died in the incident that authorities linked to Uighur separatists.

A Han man, who knows Tohti, said the scholar only called for Uighur autonomy and kept a distance from overseas Uighur groups pushing for independence.

"He said he wanted to be a bridge between the Han and Uighur people," the man said. "If he is driven into a corner, extremists advocating do-or-die resistance will gain strength."

(This article was compiled from reports by Kim Soon-hi in the Xinjiang region and Nozomu Hayashi in Beijing.)