Oct 25, 2016

East Turkestan: World Uyghur Congress Deeply Concerned over Recent Confiscation of Passports

Photo courtesy of the World Uyghur Congress

Amid a security crackdown in East Turkestan, the World Uyghur Congress (WUC) is raising strong concerns over the large-scale confiscation of passports of Uyghurs. Requested to hand in their passports at local police stations for “annual review”, Uyghurs are being threatened to “bear the consequences” if they fail to do so. The WUC argues this drastic move – stripping the Uyghur community of their freedom of movement – comes as part of a broader campaign to prevent any information from leaving East Turkestan. The restrictions are deeply worrying as sentiments of alienation and second-class citizenship are fuelled among the Uyghurs. The Uyghur community faces continuous demonization and suspicion on the part of the government in Beijing.

The press release below was published by the World Uyghur Congress:

The World Uyghur Congress strongly condemns the recent decision by a number of counties in East Turkestan (officially Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region) to confiscate passports from Uyghur residents in the area. Photos of a number of posted notices have surfaced from at least four different counties stating that Uyghur residents must promptly turn in their passports to Chinese regional authorities. No clear explanation for the policy has been announced, but follows from a number of other concerning efforts to restrict free movement within East Turkestan and elsewhere.

Although the regulations ostensibly target all residents, Chinese authorities in the past have taken clear steps to limit mobility rights for the Uyghur community in particular. Photos from Manas, Kumul, Medong and Shihezi County were all reported to have displayed such notices, along with a fifth informal notice informing residents that passports will also be collected across Hotan, Kashgar and Ili Prefectures.

More recently, Radio Free Asia reported that the Shihezi municipal police department made the announcement that residents must hand in their passports by early next year, with one official in the region stating that the deadline will be February 16th.

The official statement, dated October 19th, read, “Please hand in your passports for annual review at the police station in the district of your household registration, or at the Shihezi municipal police department, after which all passports will be held by the police department.” The statement went on to say that “Those who do not comply will have to bear the consequences, which include not being permitted to leave the country”. The notice was reportedly deleted from Sina Weibo the following day.

It was reported last year that Chinese authorities had actually encouraged Uyghurs to apply for passports, but then later questioned those who followed through, promptly inquiring about the motivation behind their choice.

The confiscation and strict regulation of passports has developed into a more significant problem in East Turkestan in recent years. The issuance of passports has provided the state considerable power over the ability for Uyghurs to travel outside the country. Human Rights Watch has shown that on top of a two tier system that vastly slows the ability of Uyghurs to obtain passports, Chinese authorities have had no trouble revoking of cancelling passports and other travel documents for Uyghurs in particular.

Official documents have shown that the restrictions were initially designed to prevent Uyghurs, Tibetan Buddhists and Hui Muslims from religiously motivated travel, but state media has stated that citizens are able to apply through state-sanctioned tour groups, rather than travelling independently. Research has also found a pattern of the denial of the right of Uyghurs to renew or obtain passports dating back to 2006.

The outright confiscation of passports was also witnessed in May 2015, as residents in the Ili Kazakh Autonomous Prefecture were asked on 30 April 2015, to hand in their passports by May 15, or have the documents canceled by the entry and exit office of the Public Security Bureau. In response, Nick Bequelin, East Asia Director at Amnesty International, stated that, “These restrictions are deeply problematic […] reinforcing the sentiment of alienation of ethnic Uighurs, and fueling the feeling of being second-class citizens, suspect in eyes of the state simply because of their ethnicity”.

Restrictions on free movement have also been accompanied by a more general campaign to prevent the information from entering or leaving the region. China has been known to cut off internet and mobile phone communication following sensitive events for weeks or even months. Furthermore, the few journalists who enter East Turkestan are looked on highly suspiciously and are very closely followed by Chinese authorities for the duration of their stay. Journalists working from Beijing have also been intimidated and even denied renewal of their press credentials merely for problematizing Chinese policies towards Uyghurs in particular.