Xinjiang to Continue Terror Crackdown

Responding to rising incidents of violence in Xinjiang and elsewhere in China, authorities in 2014 launched a nationwide crackdown on terrorism. Originally described as a “year-long, ultra-tough, unconventional” campaign, by the midpoint of that year the crackdown had been extended “at least” another six months. In the years since, anti-terror activities have continued, with a steady rollout of increasingly invasive and controversial policies—mostly targeting Xinjiang and the Uyghur ethnic minority native to the region—which rights advocates and overseas Uyghur groups blame for exacerbating ethnic tensions. As the ongoing , which is officially comprised of a series of security and stability maintenance campaigns, approaches its fourth anniversary, state media recently announced that it will continue to intensify over the next five years. Reuters’ Christian Shepherd reports:

A report first read at a government meeting on January 22 by governor Shohrat Zakir and published in the official Daily newspaper said that 2017’s campaign had made it clear that stabilising society in Xinjiang would require more measures.

“There has been no fundamental change to the situation of Xinjiang being in a time of regular violent terror activities, an intense struggle against separatists and the painful throes of an intervention treatment,” Zakir said.

He added that the long-term peace and stability of Xinjiang and its society must be the overall goal of the regional government for the “critical period” of the next five years.

Zakir said that to meet this goal, the government would continue to deepen severe specialist operations, such as guaranteeing absolute security of key areas and the “normalisation” of preventive measures in society. [Source]

Measures to date have included selective religious fasting banslocal and region-wide rules against “extremist behavior” including wearing veils or beards, propaganda campaigns to promote ethnic harmony, a ban on “extreme” Islamic baby names, a biometric data collection system, and a system of political re-education camps filled with Uyghurs in the city of Kashgar. Last week, Reuters reported on a planned “Great Wall” on Xinjiang’s border to prevent infiltration from foreign militants. Amnesty International’s Roseann Rife recently argued that making Xinjiang a “testing ground for some of the most oppressive security policies seen in China in recent years” is a counterproductive approach to achieving stability in the region.

Amid the crackdown, moderate voices for reform in the region have been harshly dealt with, which some scholars see as part of a “self-fulfilling prophecy” of increased militancy in Xinjiang. In 2014, Uyghur scholar Ilham Tohti, widely seen as a moderate voice for ethnic harmony and long opposed to Xinjiang independence, was sentenced to life in prison for separatism. Earlier this month, Radio Free Asia reported on the arrest of another prominent Uyghur intellectual for his “nationalistic tendencies”:

Halmurat Ghopur, president of the Xinjiang Food and Drug Administration’s Department of Inspection and Supervision in the regional capital Urumqi, was taken into custody in November last year and is being held in an unknown location amid an investigation into his alleged “acts against the state,” according to Zumret Tursun, a Norway-based Uyghur activist.

Tursun recently told RFA’s Uyghur Service that one of her students was present when authorities arrested Ghopur, who is also the former president of Xinjiang Medical University Hospital in Urumqi.

[…] According to Tursun, when state security police came to arrest Ghopur, he demanded to know why he was being taken away and an officer told him he had exhibited “nationalistic tendencies,” before reading some of the conversations on the messaging app WeChat that they had monitored.

“They said, ‘for this reason we are taking away your computer, and you must come with us and cooperate,’” Tursun said, citing her student.

“He hasn’t had a hearing yet, but it is obvious that he will be tried in court,” she added. […] [Source]

RFA this week reported that another detained Uyghur scholar died in custody in a re-education camp in Urumqi:

Muhammad Salih Hajim, 82, died “in custody,” about 40 days after he, his daughter and other relatives were detained, the Uyghur Human Rights Project (UHRP) said in a brief statement.

“The exact circumstances of his death are unknown, but he was taken into custody approximately 40 days ago, along with his daughter and other relatives,” said the UHRP.

[…] The fate of Salih’s daughter and the other relatives detained with him is unclear.

[…] Spokesman Dilxat Raxit of the World Uyghur Congress hailed Salih as “one of the most respected and influential Uyghur religious scholars” and noted his reputation as the first scholar to translate the Quran into Uyghur.

“We believe the Chinese government is covering up his death to prevent any potential unrest,” said Raxit, who also expressed concern that authorities would refuse to hand over Salih’s body to his family, fearing it would spark unrest. [Source]

China’s nationwide media controls are reinforced in sensitive regions, and authorities have increased measures to control the media narrative in Xinjiang during the anti-terror campaign. Amid these extra controls, information is often first reported by advocacy groups and foreign government-funded media organizations such as Radio Free Asia. Results from a recent survey by the Foreign Correspondents Club of China found that in 2017 reporting from Xinjiang became substantially more difficult. Overseas Uyghur journalists who cover Xinjiang have also seen China-based family members harassed, and living abroad have been targeted by intelligence gathering and intimidation efforts.

On Twitter, BuzzFeed’s Megha Rajagopalan shared a story of how the crackdown’s surveillance campaign has affected a 16-year-old overseas Uyghur, which was sent to her after she reported on Xinjiang as a “frontline laboratory for surveillance” last October:

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