East Turkestan: Indications of an Intensified Clampdown
The Uyghur Human Rights Project (UHRP) is concerned that remarks made on March 6  by the governor of East Turkestan (also known as Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region) at a top Chinese parliamentary meeting indicate an intensified clampdown on the Uyghur population. Xinjiang governor Nur Bakri commented that government officials would face a more difficult time maintaining stability in the region this year because unrest in neighboring countries could spread into north-western China .
Remarks in early 2009 by top officials in East Turkestan indicate a security drive against peaceful expressions of Uyghur identity and dissent. On January 11 , provincial Party Secretary Wang Lequan told members of the People’s Armed Police Forces that the “three evil forces” of terrorism, separatism and extremism appeared to be preparing a series of attacks in the region. Nur Bakri was quoted in official Chinese media as telling 500 government delegates on January 7  to be on guard against the “three evil forces”, and to be prepared for a “long-term battle” against these elements.
At a conference of senior members of the Xinjiang Public Security Bureau held in Urumchi from March 5 to 6 , Liu Yaohua, Director of the Xinjiang Public Security Department was quoted by Xinhua as stating that the recent global financial downturn will result in serious challenges to stability in the region from the “three evil forces”. Liu added that Xinjiang Public Security Bureaus should “minimize the factors of disharmony, and respond…all out to safeguard social stability and unity”.
Signs that an intensified campaign against Uyghur identity has already begun is evident in the aforementioned Xinhua article, which reports that “according to investigations, police raided three illegal religious gathering places in Lop and Awat Counties one after another, arrested nearly 20 illegal religious teachers, and effectively preserved the political stability of our society.”
As stated in the State Department’s human rights report for 2008, Xinjiang officials “defended the campaign against separatism as necessary to maintain public order and continued to use the threat of violence as justification for extreme security measures directed at the local population and visiting foreigners.”
Ms. Rebiya Kadeer, Uyghur democracy leader, said: “There is a consistent denial among Chinese officials to acknowledge the damage being done by their repressive policies. To attribute social problems in East Turkestan to external factors is a clear refusal to understand the underlying reasons for the Chinese government’s failed policies. Bereft of ideas, the Chinese authorities use unjustifiable force to deal with Uyghur issues.”
Media reports have indicated an increase in the number of petitioners traveling from throughout the People’s Republic of China to Beijing to present their grievances to the central government at the opening of two annual government meetings in the capital. Three Uyghurs reportedly set themselves on fire last week after traveling to Beijing from Urumchi to protest the demolition of their home. According to government officials, three members of the family were physically or mentally disabled. While it is unclear if this claim is accurate, the Chinese government frequently refers to petitioners and other protestors as having some type of mental disability, rather than recognize the legitimacy of their concerns.
Chinese government officials frequently associate peaceful protest on the part of Uyghurs with terrorism, extremism or separatism. The year 2008 marked a period of extreme repression for Uyghurs, including a sharp increase in arrests for “state security” crimes and security crackdowns aimed at the broader Uyghur population. The Chinese government intensified its use of the “war on terror” to persecute Uyghurs, through mass arrests, detentions, and executions, the mobilization of armed police and security forces to the region, and ideological campaigns aimed at stamping out the “three evil forces”.
Heightened campaigns to promote security and battle separatism in East Turkestan have corresponded with increased drives to dilute Uyghur culture and assimilate Uyghurs. Recently, official media reports and reports from local residents have indicated that the “old city” in Kashgar, in the southwestern part of East Turkestan, is being destroyed, and residents are being transferred to other locations in Kashgar. The destruction of the old city is being officially reported as a benevolent campaign to tear down dangerous, earthquake-prone buildings and transfer Uyghurs to newly-built, modern apartment buildings. The old city is a traditional center of Uyghur culture, and has been almost entirely inhabited by Uyghurs. According to the official media, more than 200,000 people live in the old city, and 300 million Yuan from the central and provincial governments is being spent on transferring them out. It is unclear which part of Kashgar the residents of the old city are being transferred to, and it appears there is no plan to return people to the old city once it has been rebuilt.