Turks Held in Plot to Help Uyghurs Leave China

Chinese state media announced that 10 Turkish nationals have been taken into custody for allegedly providing assistance to seeking to emigrate illegally from China. Edward Wong at The New York Times reports:

The police in Shanghai have arrested 10 Turkish citizens and two Chinese citizens and accused them of providing altered Turkish passports to terrorist suspects from the western region of , a state-run newspaper reported on Wednesday.

The people trying to use the passports — nine ethnic Uighurs trying to leave China illegally through a Shanghai airport — are also under arrest, according to the newspaper, Global Times.

All of the suspects were detained in November and formally charged recently, the report said. It added that the nine Uighurs were planning to go to Afghanistan, Pakistan and Syria after leaving China. Audio and video materials with content related to were found on those trying to leave, the report said.

Those involved in providing the forged passports have been charged with smuggling terrorists and altering legal documents, Global Times reported. On Wednesday afternoon, calls made to the Shanghai police seeking comment were not immediately answered. [Source]

The Turkish Foreign Ministry confirmed the arrests but did not reference the terrorism-related charges cited by the Chinese state news report. The New York Times’ Edward Wong and Sebnem Arsu report:

The Turkish Foreign Ministry has confirmed that 10 Turkish citizens are under arrest in China on charges of trying to smuggle people out of the country, but it did not say they had been helping terrorism suspects, as a Chinese news report asserted.

A statement issued by the ministry late Wednesday in response to questions by The New York Times confirmed some aspects of the account published earlier in the day by Global Times, a major state-run newspaper. However, the statement’s failure to mention any of the terrorism-related charges that the paper did, citing police officials in Shanghai, where the arrests took place, raised questions about the newspaper’s account.

[…] A Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman said at a news conference on Wednesday that the Global Times article was “extremely accurate.”

But the details given by the Turkish Foreign Ministry made no reference to either terrorism-related charges or terrorist suspects. Rather, the ministry said that 10 people — eight men and two women — had been detained by security officials in Shanghai on Nov. 17 on suspicion of “organizing people for illegal border crossings.” [Source]

In a separate case, Chinese authorities are conducting a graft investigation into 32 Xinjiang officials who have been accused of accepting bribes in exchange for organizing Mecca pilgrimage trips for Uyghurs. Michael Martina at Reuters reports:

The China Daily, the country’s official English-language newspaper, said 14,000 such pilgrimages were organized in 2014 though some of the people who went to Mecca were “unqualified”. It did not explain what that meant.

“In addition to arranging pilgrimages for unqualified people, the investigated officials were found to have asked for and received bribes or neglected the inspection and management of pilgrimage work,” the China Daily said, citing the anti-graft watchdog.

The officials, most of them from Xinjiang’s Kizilsu prefecture, violated Communist Party discipline, were derelict of duty, abused their power for personal gain and made power-for-money deals, the newspaper said.

They included Kizilsu’s former director of pilgrimage affairs, the head of the public security bureau and the mayor of the its most populous city, Artux. [Source]

The graft investigations are taking place amid government attempts to control religious expression in the troubled region. At the end of last year, authorities in Xinjiang approved a ban on the wearing of Islamic veils in public. In Kashgar, colorful murals denouncing religious extremism and other behaviors deemed inappropriate by the government were painted on walls next to a mosque in the Silk Road district.

The ongoing tension between ethnic and Beijing has left many Uyghurs and feeling excluded from China’s economic boom. According to The Economist, language barriers and ethnic discrimination are the main factors that hinder minorities from gaining employment in cities, forcing a growing number of Uyghurs and Tibetans to resort to farming.

CHINA is urbanising at a rapid pace. In 2000 nearly two-thirds of its residents lived in the countryside. Today fewer than half do. But two ethnic groups, whose members often chafe at Chinese rule, are bucking this trend. Uighurs and Tibetans are staying on the farm, often because discrimination against them makes it difficult to find work in cities. As ethnic discontent grows, so too does the discrimination, creating a vicious circle.

[…] Part of the problem is linguistic. Uighurs and Tibetans brought up in the countryside often have a very poor grasp of Mandarin, the official language. The government has tried to promote Mandarin in schools, but has encountered resistance in some places where it is seen as an attempt to suppress native culture. In southern Xinjiang, where most Uighurs live, many schools do not teach it.

But discrimination is a big factor, too. Even some of the best-educated Uighur and Tibetan migrants struggle to find work. Reza Hasmath of Oxford University found that minority candidates in Beijing, for example, were better educated on average than their Han counterparts, but got worse-paying jobs. A separate study found that CVs of Uighurs and Tibetans, whose ethnicities are clearly identifiable from their names (most Uighurs also look physically very different from Han Chinese), generated far fewer calls for interviews. [Source]

Read more about the situation in Xinjiang, via CDT.