China cracks down on Uighurs ahead of 5th anniversary of bloody riots

The Asahi Shimbun, 1 July 2014

URUMQI, China–Chinese authorities detained a number of Uighurs here in the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region ahead of the fifth anniversary July 5 of riots that left nearly 200 people dead.

Putting priority on the “stability” of the state, the administration of President Xi Jinping has been tightening its grip on Uighurs, imprisoning many apparently for religious or political reasons.

In June 2009, Han Chinese killed Uighur workers in Guangdong province, sparking a wave of violence the following month that in addition to the deaths left more than 1,600 injured in the autonomous region’s capital, Urumqi.

Unrest has continued in the city, with two bomb attacks in the last couple of months, one at a train station April 30 and the other at a morning market May 22.

Chinese authorities said they have detained about 380 people in association with both incidents.

“Police came and detained my husband around 1 a.m. on May 30,” said a woman in her 30s. “I was told not to make a fuss about his detention because he will be released after July 5.”

The woman, who runs a grocery store with her 40-year-old husband in a residential area for Uighurs in northern Urumqi, said she has been unable to contact him since he was arrested.

According to the wife, the Uighur man was handed a two-year prison term with hard labor in connection with his Islamic activities in the late 1990s. The woman said her husband was a devout Muslim but had never been involved in crimes by extremists.

“I do not know why he was detained,” she said. “Police told me nothing.”

Autonomous regions for ethnic minorities in China account for 60 percent of the country’s entire land mass and are typically rich in natural resources.

As the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region is bordered by a number of countries, its security situation directly impacts national security and economic policies, making stability within the region the top priority for Chinese authorities.

Beijing is also pursuing a major slum clearance drive in the area, which authorities view as a breeding ground for extremists.

In early June, work started in earnest to demolish residences in a district in northern Urumqi, where many migrant workers from impoverished southern areas of the capital resided. There currently are guard stations for security authorities on the site, and armed guards keep a close watch on the district.

According to local residents, relocating residents in order to redevelop the area has long been discussed, but recently 300 to 400 homes have been demolished.

“The government believes that poverty will lead to terrorism and kicked out poor people,” a local Uighur man said.

Some former residents of the district returned to their hometowns, while others moved to different areas in Urumqi using what little compensation money that had been provided, according to locals.

Religious differences as well as a relatively low ability to speak and write Chinese make it difficult for Uighurs to find jobs, further fueling anti-government sentiment among them.