May 13, 2015

East Turkestan: Coerced Submission of Passports Restricts Freedom of Movement


Authorities in the northwestern province of China have ordered all residents that are officially registered in the area to hand in their passports by 15 May 2015. Registered individuals who fail to submit their identification document on time will be cancelled. According to Amnesty International, this order is China’s latest attempt to restrict the freedom of movement of Uyghurs.


Below is an article published by The Guardian:

A district of 5 million people in China’s restive far west has demanded that residents hand in their passports to the police for indefinite safekeeping, the latest government crackdown in an area where Beijing has declared a “people’s war” on violent separatists.

A notice posted in Yining city, nearly 2,000 miles west of Beijing and near the country’s border with Kazakhstan, said all passports should be surrendered by 15 May.

“Those who do not hand in their passports on time will be reported to the entry and exit bureau and, according to the relevant regulations, their passports will be cancelled,” the memo from a local police station said.

The order came from authorities in Yili prefecture, which has endured sporadic outbursts of ethnic unrest for nearly two decades. Last year authorities ramped up security and held a public show trial in the main football stadium.

Pictures of the notice about passports, which is written in Chinese and the Uighur language used by the region’s biggest ethnic minority, were posted anonymously on the internet.

Two officers at different Yining city police stations confirmed the announcement was genuine and said the rule applied to anyone officially registered as a resident of the area, even if they were living in other parts of China.

They declined to give their names or say why the passports were being confiscated, or what conditions residents would need to meet to get them back.

Restricted access to passports is a recurrent frustration for residents of western Xinjiang region, for both the largely Muslim Uighurs and ethnic Han Chinese.

“This picture of an official notice appears to confirm numerous credible reports that we have received in recent months and years about Uighur residents not being able to obtain passports, or being required to hand over their individual passports to the public security when they are there,” said Nicholas Bequelin, east Asia director for Amnesty International.

“These limitations on freedom of movement are part of a larger set of measures that aim at restricting the freedom of movements of ethnic Uighurs and it goes a long way in explaining why so many Uighurs have to resort to clandestinely exit the country instead.”

Beijing has been trying to halt illicit movement in and out of the area for years, pointing to militants who have joined groups in Afghanistan, Pakistan and the Middle East and domestic separatists who want an independent state, East Turkistan.

Critics and rights groups though say that many Uighurs trying to leave the country are peaceful refugees fleeing a repressive atmosphere with their families, and point to groups held in Thailand that include many women and children.

They argue that racism excludes Uighurs from economic opportunities and government efforts to curb religious extremism have made it hard for even moderate Muslims to practise their faith, discouraging women from covering their hair, banning beards for students and government employees, and forbidding fasting during the holy month of Ramadan.