Aug 15, 2008

East Turkestan: China Steps Up Scrutiny in Beijing

Active ImageChinese government has increased harsh surveillance against Uyghurs in Beijing despite their peaceful sentiment.



Below is an article written by Jake Hooker and published by The New York Times:

Every morning at 9 a.m., they are at his door.

The police come to the small room the young Uighur cook shares with several other Uighurs to check their papers — and to see if there are new arrivals from his homeland of Xinjiang.

He has lived here for six years, peaceably and happily. But in the days preceding the Olympics, things changed. The police had been watching him even before recent violent attacks in Xinjiang but when the Chinese authorities began to warn that a Uighur […] group was trying to disrupt the Games, the scrutiny intensified. The Olympic opening ceremony contained traditional Uighur song and dance. But most of the several thousand Uighurs who work here have left.

The Uighurs are an ethnic group of Turkic-speaking Muslims who live in China’s far west. Most who are in Beijing come to make money for a time and then ride a two-day train back to Xinjiang. Many longtime Uighur residents here own halal kebab restaurants. Seasonal workers sell sweet melons grown in the oasis towns along the western deserts, or peddle fruitcakes from rickshaws.

Because of the increasing tension, some Uighurs interviewed in recent weeks requested anonymity and others gave only a first name.

In a neighborhood of warehouses and foreign textile traders, Muslims come to a small mosque to pray.
“The Uighurs all went home,” said Ma Yiqing, 55, a Chinese Muslim from the northwestern province of Gansu, standing in the mosque’s courtyard after evening prayers. “During the Olympics, they are getting squeezed tighter.”

A young Uighur from central Xinjiang also works in the neighborhood. He has spent most of his life in Beijing, and, unlike some Uighurs, he has grown accustomed to life among Han Chinese. He has Han Chinese friends. His Mandarin is colloquial. He wants to learn Russian, too, so he can do business with traders in the neighborhood. Beijing is his town.

Now he has become a target of surveillance, it appears, because of his ethnic background.
“There must be some misunderstanding,” he said.

Officers often check his identification. Recently he was detained for several hours because he was not carrying his identification, he said. Because he has a steady job he has been allowed to stay, while Uighur traders have disappeared.

“It’s not fair,” he said. “They were here to do business — not to attack the Olympics.”

Many Han Chinese support the security measures that have included encouraging migrants to leave town. They say it is China’s duty to protect foreign dignitaries during their stay. China has labeled Uighur separatist groups as the top threat to the Games.

Fighting terrorism is only one reason Uighurs are coming under scrutiny, many scholars say.


Some Western scholars say China has sought to portray Uighurs separatists as a potential terrorist threat to the Olympics to tighten its control in the volatile western region. In recent months the Chinese government has repeatedly claimed that East Turkestan Islamic Movement operatives connected to Al Qaeda were planning to attack various Olympic targets — without providing proof to back their claims.

“The world’s opinion was increasingly becoming skeptical about organized terrorism, so the government is trying to prove that it is a real threat,” Dru C. Gladney, a scholar of Chinese Muslims, said.

“My feeling is that the vast majority of Uighurs are very ardently opposed to disrupting the Olympics,” said Mr. Gladney, a professor at Pomona College in Claremont, Calif. “Some said they want the Olympics to go well so China will loosen its control over Uighurs in Xinjiang.”

It is difficult to quantify how many Uighurs have gone home for the Olympics.

Several interviewed in recent weeks said they understood the government’s push to reduce crime during the Olympics. But in its effort to make the city safe, they said, the government has gone too far.

Guest houses are full of Uighur police officers and officials who have been transferred from Xinjiang to keep watch over Uighurs in Beijing.

One of the officials, Akhmeti, is stationed at a guesthouse. As he ate lunch with other Uighur officials, he acknowledged the ethnic profiling of Uighurs but said he was powerless to change it.

“There are some words we feel in our hearts, but we cannot say,” he said.

China has sought to highlight the threat from [some] Uighurs […] while asserting that the majority of Xinjiang’s 8.3 million Uighurs are peaceful.

“Terrorism should not be linked with particular ethnic or religious groups,” Qin Gang, spokesman for the Foreign Ministry, said earlier this year [2008]. “These terrorists cannot represent the vast majority of the Uighur people.”

Still, Uighurs in Beijing are feeling pressed.

Ahmet, a quiet young man, came to Beijing to open his eyes to the world, to earn a little money, to learn Chinese. His parents grow cotton back home in Xinjiang. He makes his living as a waiter.

He is happy for the chance to live in the capital, even though it is 2,000 miles from home.

He went to an Internet cafe recently to send an e-mail message to his parents. The police showed up and asked him for his identification. People in the cafe stared. By the time the police had run his identification through their records, Ahmet said, he did not feel like writing home.

“Last month — this month — it is the same,” he said in his choppy Mandarin. “I turn on the computer, the police come, and I don’t feel so good anymore.”