HOW TO ‘LEGALLY’ SUPPRESS A PEOPLE – THE CHINESE WAY
You have to give it to the Chinese. Afterall, in an era where the issues of religious freedom and human rights have forced even the most authoritarian regimes to relent and make concessions, if not amends in its autocratic laws, Beijing continues with its forcible and oppressive occupation of the Tibetan and Xinjiang Autonomous Regions. However, while the Tibet cause has a large international following and attracts considerable attention of the international community, Beijing’s subjugation of the indigenous Muslim population of Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region (XUAR) China, unfortunately has gone largely unnoticed.
That China has been able to deceive the international community regarding the Uyghur issue illustrates its remarkable ability to manipulate fact and fiction thereby creating an illusion that has successfully moulded world opinion to its advantage. There is no doubt that the Uyghurs are unhappy with China’s rule and this discontentment has found expression in the form of sporadic acts of violence. However, contrary to the claims made by Beijing, the reason for this acrimony is not stimulated by any communally inspired grandiose secessionist ideology, but simply due to basic economic and societal issues pertaining to cultural and religious beliefs.
Xinjiang region had remained relatively autonomous and even enjoyed brief spells of ‘self-rule’ until it was annexed by China in 1949. Though the Uyghurs did not resist Chinese rule, Beijing was never very comfortable with its Muslim Uygur population, as it shared cultural and religious affinity with neighbouring Central Asian countries. So, in an effort to marginalise the Uyghurs, Beijing settled a large number of people of Han ethnicity in Xinjiang and as per an article published by Christina MacGillivray and Sean Harder of The Stanley Foundation, “In 1945 Uyghurs constituted 80 percent of Xinjiang’s population. Today, incentives for Han Chinese to move into the providence have reduced the Uyghurs to only 43 percent of Xinjiang’s population.”
The phenomenal rise in the Han population has created several problems for the indigenous Uyghurs and the preferential treatment extended to the Han settlers by Beijing has further complicated the issue. In 1954, Beijing created the Xinjiang Production and Construction Corps (XPCC) comprising Hans for carrying out farming during peace and doubling up as soldiers during war. The Uyghurs, who are traditionally farmers, cannot compete with well-paid and privileged Hans who use cheap migrant Han labour and this has led to a massive economic disparity. According to the US Congressional Executive Commission on China (CECC), Beijing “provides incentives for migration to the region from elsewhere in China, in the name of recruiting talent and promoting stability” and with subsidies provided by Beijing, the Hans have been able to prosper at the cost of the Uyghurs. But, there is also a much bigger and far more serious issue.
Though Beijing claims that the “Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region exercises regional ethnic autonomy and carries out the policies of ethnic equality and freedom of religion… fully respects and protects the various rights of ethnic minorities and the citizen’s freedom of religious belief,” reliable reports suggest otherwise. Beijing, through its purported claim of cracking down on “three (Evil) forces” of religious extremism, “splittism” (separatism) and terrorism has specifically targeted the Uyghurs and few examples of Beijing’s curbs on their religious beliefs documented in the 2008 US State Department Human Rights Report are:
• As Uyghur couples can have only two children, a Uyghur woman named Arzigul Tursun, who was more than six months pregnant with her third child, was forcibly escorted by Family Planning officials and Police to the hospital for an abortion. (Luckily, due to widespread protests, Tursun was released from the hospital without having to undergo the procedure).
• Some scholars who contributed to the 2004 book ‘Xinjiang: China’s Muslim Borderland’, reported subsequent difficulty obtaining visas.
• Beijing tightly controlled the practice of Islam, and official repression of Uyghur Muslims in the XUAR increased. Regulations restricting Muslims’ religious activity, teaching, and places of worship continued to be implemented forcefully in the XUAR.
• Measures to tighten control over religion in XUAR included increasing surveillance of mosques, religious leaders, and practitioners; detaining and arresting persons engaged in unauthorized religious activities; curbing illegal scripture readings; and increasing accountability among implementing officials.
• XUAR authorities maintained the most severe legal restrictions in the country on children’s right to practice religion. Authorities continued to prohibit the teaching of Islam outside the home to elementary-and middle-school-age children in some areas, and children under the age of 18 were prohibited from entering mosques. In August, authorities reportedly forced the return of Uyghur children studying religion in another province and detained them in the XUAR for engaging in “illegal religious activities.”
• Authorities reserved the right to censor imams’ sermons, and imams were urged to emphasise the damage caused to Islam by terrorist acts in the name of the religion. Certain Muslim leaders received particularly harsh treatment. Authorities in some areas conducted monthly political study sessions for religious personnel, which, according to one CCP official who took part in a study session, called for “creatively interpreting and improving” religious doctrine.
• Authorities also reportedly tried to restrict Muslims’ opportunities to study religion overseas. The China Islamic Conference required religious personnel to study “new collected sermons” compiled by an Islamic Association of China (IAC) committee, including messages on patriotism and unity aimed at building a “socialist harmonious society.”
• Teachers, professors, and university students in the XUAR were sometimes not allowed to practice religion openly. Authorities imposed restrictions on State employees’ observance of Ramadan and prohibitions on closing restaurants during periods of fasting. A local party secretary, reportedly called on schools to strengthen propaganda education during Ramadan and to put a stop to activities including fasting and professing a religion. The Kashgar Teachers College reportedly implemented a series of measures to prevent students from observing Ramadan, including imposing communal meals and requiring students to obtain permission to leave campus. School authorities also made students gather for a school assembly at a time of day coinciding with Friday prayers.
• The government took steps to prevent Muslims from traveling on unauthorised pilgrimages. The government continued to enforce a policy barring Muslims from obtaining hajj visas outside of China. The government published banners and slogans discouraging hajj pilgrimages outside those organized by the IAC. Foreign media reported that XUAR officials confiscated the passports of Uyghur Muslims in some areas to prevent unauthorized hajj pilgrimages.
• Government officials in some areas also arbitrarily detained Muslims to prevent them from going on the hajj, required them to show that their hajj travel funds were not borrowed from other sources, required them to pay a large deposit to retrieve their passports for overseas travel, and required them to pass a health test.
• In 2007, XUAR authorities also confiscated 25,000 illegal religious publications. The Xinjiang People’s Publication House was the only publisher officially permitted to print Muslim literature.
So, the question arises- despite knowing that Beijing stands guilty of repressive policies designed to deprive Uyghur Muslims their right to practice Islam, why does the US continue to woo China. The answer is simple- sensing America’s obsession with ‘war on terror’, Beijing has played its cards well by placing the tag of ‘Islamic Terrorists’ on the Uyghurs, whom it refers to as “East Turkistan terrorist forces.” Thus, it convinced Washington and the international community that, “Since the formation of the “East Turkistan Islamic Movement,” (Osama) bin Laden has schemed with the heads of the Central and West Asian terrorist organisations many times to help the “East Turkistan” terrorist forces in Xinjiang to launch a “holy war.” Beijing has claimed that this was being done “with the aim of setting up a theocratic “Islam state” in Xinjiang.”
Uyghur Human Rights Project (UHRP) Director, Alim Seytoff has made a very pertinent observation that, “the Chinese authorities’ claims on the levels and nature of terrorism in East Turkistan, particularly since 9/11, is that individuals and organisations in the region are closely affiliated with groups such as Al-Qaeda and the Taliban – even receiving training and funding from them. On the basis of these claims, the Chinese authorities have attempted to portray East Turkistan (Xinjiang Region) as a ‘battleground’ in the ‘international war’ on terrorism”. While the lack of concern shown by America towards the oppressed Uyghurs comes as no big surprise, the apathy displayed by the Islamic world towards the persecution of Uyghur Muslims is appalling.
By maintaining a stoic silence while Uyghur Muslims are being denied their basic right to practice Islam, merely because Beijing perceives that this will result in the creation of ‘theocratic Islamic state’, the fraternity of Islamic nations is unwittingly promoting the completely false and vile impression being spread by our enemies which seeks to link Islam with terrorism. While no one expects any responsible nation or organisation to support Uyghur militant groups, Islamic nations are failing in their religious duty and moral obligation to ensure that our Uyghur brethren are not subjected to prosecution by China merely for their religious beliefs. By turning a blind eye to the sufferings of the Uyghur Muslims for the sake of commercial interests, the Islamic world stands guilty of accepting blood money and this is despicable!