Responding to an increase in violent incidents in Xinjiang and elsewhere in China, authorities launched a nationwide crackdown on terrorism in May of 2014. The campaign, which has focused mostly on Xinjiang, has steadily escalated over the past two years, and controversial policies targeting the rights of the predominantly Muslim Uyghur minority have been criticized by international rights advocates for exacerbating ethnic tensions in the troubled region. Some such policies have been aimed at restricting and monitoring the mobility of Xinjiang residents, presumably in relation to authorities’ concerns that some Uyghurs are traveling to the Middle East for jihad training. In May of 2015 all residents in Xinjiang’s ethnically-diverse Ili Prefecture were ordered to turn their passports in to public security authorities, and earlier this year, it was reported that all Xinjiang passport applicants would be required to provide DNA and other biometric data with their applications.
This week, the official Weibo of the Shihezi, Xinjiang Public Security Bureau announced a similar requirement for all local residents, citing orders from higher-ranking authorities. The post has since been deleted, but has been archived by CDT Chinese:
Ping’anShihezi (@平安石河子)：#关于实行护照年审的紧急通知##EmergencyNoticeOnAnnualPassportInspection: On the request of higher authorities, please take your passports to the hukou site at your local police station or the Shihezi Public Security Bureau’s Entry and Exit Administration Department for an annual inspection. After the inspection, all applicants’ valid passports will remain in official custody for safekeeping. If a resident does not comply, they will assume responsibility for their being forbidden from leaving the country.
From now on all passport applicants please first go to the hukou site of your local police station with your biometric data, then proceed to the Immigration Bureau to collect an application form. Applicants need to obtain approval letters and stamps from your neighborhood committees. Those who are currently employed must also obtain approval stamps from employers’ administration or HR department. All other passport application procedures will remain unchanged.
These provisions will be effective upon the issuance of this notice. Consultation telephone: 15209932158
Shihezi Public Security Bureau Entry and Exit Administration Department
Twitter user @Uyghurspeaker shared an image of an officially stamped document from the Shihezi PSB Entry and Exit Administration Department:
— Uyghur from E.T☪ (@Uyghurspeaker) October 19, 2016
Radio Free Asia reports further on the passport recall, noting that it applies to residents across Xinjiang and that a February 2017 deadline has been given for passports to be handed in:
[…] An employee who answered the phone at the Shihezi police department entry and exit bureau on Thursday confirmed the new rules, saying they are currently being rolled out across the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region.
“The official deadline for passports to be handed in … is Feb. 16, 2017,” the employee said.
“The policy applies across the whole of the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region.”
[…] A resident of Shihezi told RFA on Thursday that the new rules had made life far less convenient for local people.
“I’m a little reluctant to hand in my passport, because now I’ll have to get it back off the police if I want to leave the country,” the resident said.
[…] Ilshat Hasan, president of Uyghur American Association, told RFA the passport policy signaled a harsh approach to Uyghur communities.
“I don’t think this policy will bring any benefit to the region. This will increase resentment and resistance in the region and this kind of harsh policy will create a large-scale exodus, as people will try to escape by different means,” he said. [Source]
Some netizens agreed that this policy could be excessive and counterproductive. NiXianshengDeWeibo (@尼先生的微博) commented, “ID cards should also be collected for annual inspection. Each time someone wants to leave their house they have to obtain an approval stamp, then head to the police station to retrieve their card, only then can they go out. So convenient! Forwarding the spirit of efficiency in Xinjiang.” This post has since been deleted.
Xinjiang-born “Big V” Weibo user WangYunHaoSeven (@王云皓Seven), who according to his profile currently lives in Beijing, had this to say after hearing about the annual passport inspection:
Over the years, I’ve been a proud child of Xinjiang. Even during especially sensitive periods when outsiders questioned the clamor, I’d tell friends of the beauty and passion, the abundance and splendor of our region. But even if you love your native land, it may not return that respect and support. Previously, Hong Kong and Macao had experienced many passport barriers, but even they’d be surprised to see this new policy. Xinjiang passports had previously been cancelled, and some will not be returned to Xinjiang residents. The Shihezi PSB Exit and Entry Bureau without any explanation ordered all individuals to turn over their passports, and those who don’t do so by the deadline face risk of cancellation. Personal freedom of movement is not guaranteed, and the rights of the citizens are being violently trampled upon. This overstepping of public rights recalls the preposterous losses faced after July 5. I’m waiting for an explanation, and a fair and just proposal to resolve this. [Chinese]
WangYunHaoSeven then received notice from Sina that his comment violated regulations and would be deleted. To this, he responded, “OK, great. This has been identified as illegal content. Are there any unreasonable demands in it? Any vulgar language or other vulgarity? Successive deletions, and not even any sensitive keywords. Take a look, what are they filtering?”
While Xinjiang has been declared the “frontline” of Beijing’s war on terror, attacks carried out by Uyghur militants elsewhere in the country have done little to soothe long-festering ethnic tensions between the Han majority and Uyghurs. An example of systemic mistrust in Uyghurs came in August from the central province of Hubei, when a bus driver called the police to report a suspicious “Xinjiang person” hitchhiking in Yunxi County. This “Xinjiang person,” it turned out after authorities arrived to investigate his passport, was actually a French tourist. The local police attempted to spin what might have been an embarrassing revelation of implicit bias into a “positively energetic” news post:
XingfuChengguan (@幸福城关): #YunxiPoliceCall August 22, 8:00 AM, A French man came to Yunxi on his travels. As he was preparing to hitch a ride towards Xi’an, a bus driver mistook him for a Xinjiang person and called the police. A police officer came, and after examining his passport found a truck that was heading in the direction of Xi’an that could offer him a ride. Before leaving, the Frenchman shook hands in thanks. [Chinese]
The above post drew mockery from netizens, some of whom highlighted how this type of prejudice could worsen the situation. Weibo user @M-Mustafa said, “So you see a Xinjianger and immediately call the police. How does this not compel those from Xinjiang towards rebellion?” BaiYulin (@柏蔚林) drew attention to propaganda campaigns aimed at encouraging ethnic unity that, at least for the bus driver who called the Yunxi police, seem to be failing miserably: “So a Xinjianger automatically equals an enemy, what kind of extended Chinese ethnic family is that? Can we be any more idiotic?” Fellow Weibo user @pi1ot said simply, “Foreign lives matter!”