The Uyghur people of East Turkestan, an area known by the Chinese authorities as Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, have long been victims of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP)’s sixty-year authoritarian rule. In the years since the CCP gained control of East Turkestan in 1949 and before Deng Xiaoping launched his era of economic reforms, Uyghurs were subjected to a number of destructive Communist-led campaigns and movements.
From the purges of East Turkestan nationalists in the Anti-Rightist Campaign of the late fifties, to the starvation, exile and destruction of the Cultural Revolution between 1966 and 1976, Uyghurs, along with millions of other victims, were persecuted by the CCP.
However, Uyghurs were also subjected to special campaigns specifically directed at them so as to dilute their distinct identity. In the early sixties, the CCP administration instigated a forced resettlement policy with the aims of dispersing concentrations of Uyghurs and ofisolating Uyghurs from their communities.
As is apparent, documenting the history of Uyghur persecution by the Chinese authorities is a long and detailed undertaking, which is full of personal stories most likely lost due to the silencing of Uyghur dissent throughout the years. However, we would like to focus on the present day persecution of Uyghurs and outline the continuous suffering of the Uyghur people.
At this point in history, the Uyghurs in East Turkestan face a critical challenge to their very existence as a people. East Turkestan sits on valuable natural resources, namely oil, and is strategically important due to its proximity to Russia, South Asia and Central Asia.
The Chinese government’s thirst for energy to drive its economy and its growing dominance in global affairs has made the Uyghur presence in East Turkestan an inconvenience. In order to resolve this, the Chinese government is undertaking methodical long and short term measures. These measures impact every area of Uyghur society, including its politics, economics, and culture. The message these measures spell
out is clear. Uyghurs must assimilate or face extinction.
Wang Lequan, the “Xinjiang” Communist Party Secretary has called the subjugation of the Uyghur people a “life and death” struggle. Since 9/11, the Chinese government has used our Islamic faith against us and labeled Uyghurs as terrorists to justify crackdowns and security sweeps as part of the “war on terror”. The Chinese authorities have also heavily promoted the notion that a coordinated and organized Uyghur terror network exists under the umbrella of an organization called the East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM) or the Turkestan Islamic Party (TIP).
It is not certain who are the actual members of ETIM or TIP. Independent observers are not even sure if ETIM actually exists. With regard to TIP, doubts exist on whether it is indeed a group operated by some religious Uyghurs or a shadow "terror" organization created by the PRC authorities to demonize the Uyghur people’s peaceful struggle against Chinese repression. It is in the national interest of China to have a radicalized Uyghur group, such as ETIM or TIP, to justify the severe persecution it carries out against the Uyghur people.
Using the terror threat as a pretext, in the pre-Olympics period (from January 2008 to July 2008), the Chinese authorities launched a crackdown in which 25 Uyghurs were killed in alleged “terror raids”, 76 Uyghurs were convicted on terror-related charges – 20 of them sentenced to death, and 2 Uyghurs were executed at a mass sentencing
On January 4, 2009, The Procuratorial Daily reported that nearly 1,300 people were arrested in East Turkestan on state security crimes in 2008, marking a steep increase over previous years. Of the nearly 1,300 arrests made, 1,154 were formally charged and faced trials or administrative punishment. According to the People’s Republic of China’snational statistics bureau, only 742 people were arrested on state security crimes throughout the entire country in 2007, and 619 of these were indicted.
On December 17, 2008 Abdurahman Azat and Kurbanjan Hemit were sentenced by the Intermediate People’s Court of Kashgar to death for “intentional homicide and illegally producing guns, ammunition and explosives”. Abdurahman Azat and Kurbanjan Hemit had been detained for allegedly carrying out an August 4, 2008 attack in Kashgar in which sixteen armed police were killed. Both men were executed on April 9, 2009 at an unknown location after the announcement of their impending execution was read out in front of 4,000 officials and Kashgar residents in a local stadium. According to local sources, Hemit appeared to have been severely beaten while in custody.
What is disturbing about terror allegations in East Turkestan is the astonishing lack of evidence accompanying the allegations, arrests and death sentences. The case against Abdurahman Azat and Kurbanjan Hemit is particularly alarming as eyewitness evidence from tourist bystanders contradicts the official version of events. We have no idea if this evidence was considered by Chinese judicial authorities as the trial, if there ever was one, was carried out behind closed doors.
Detention, torture and execution represent the short-term measures the Chinese government uses to silence Uyghur dissent. In addition, The Chinese government is committing economic, social and cultural human rights abuses to undermine Uyghur society long-term.
The United Nations documents lower incomes and higher poverty for Uyghurs compared to Han Chinese in East Turkestan. Job opportunities in the public and private sectors are few for the young and talented Uyghurs graduating from university.
A new policy recruits young Uyghur women from majority Uyghur areas of East Turkestan and transfers them to work in factories in urban areas of east China. Under the policy, thousands of Uyghur women have been removed from their families and placed into substandard working conditions thousands of miles from their homes.
Already, hundreds of thousands of young Uyghur women have been transferred from East Turkestan into Beijing, Tianjin, Jiangsu, Qingdao, Shandong, Zhejiang, and other locations. There were 240,000 from the Kashgar Region to China’s eastern provinces in 2006.The eventual goal of this policy, as part of the 11th Five Year Plan of the Chinese government, is to transfer some 400,000 young Uyghur women to China’s eastern provinces.
The mass in-migration of Han Chinese settlers and the transfer of young Uyghur women to east China has changed the demography of East Turkestan. Today, Uyghurs are a minority in their own land.
This long-term economic strategy is accompanied by cultural human rights abuses. In East Turkestan, China is actively promoting the “Sinification” of Uyghurs, whereby linguistic, and religious aspects of Uyghur culture are outlawed, banned, or otherwise discouraged.
Uyghurs are not permitted to undertake Hajj, unless it is with an expensive official tour, in which applicants are carefully vetted for their “obedience to the law”. Confiscations of passports, to the point where very few Uyghurs have passports, ensures adherence to the'official tours only’ policy.
In addition, students and government employees are not permitted to fast during Ramadan or attend mosques in general. Restaurants are also forced to open during fasting hours in the month of Ramadan. These repressive policies makes it very difficult for Uyghurs to perform the five pillars of the Islamic faith.
Furthermore, Chinese authorities are implementing a monolingual Chinese language education system among Uyghurs in East Turkestan that undermines the linguistic basis of Uyghur culture. Since the mid-1980’s China’s government has moved in stages towards making Chinese the only language of instruction in East Turkestan’s schools.
Over the past five years, government efforts at eliminating Uyghur language schools have accelerated dramatically as compulsory Chinese language education has been expanded at every educational level and every township in East Turkestan.
Muslim Uyghurs at afternoon prayer at the Idkah Mosque in Kashgar, in northwest China's Xinjiang province.