Since April 2017, the wave of arrests of members of the Muslim minority, especially ethnic Uighurs, Kazakhs and Kyrgyz, has ben increasing in Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region of China. The main objects of repression are not only those who have family ties with members of the jihadist group Turkestan Islamic Party (TIP) but also ordinary believers who diligently perform daily religious rites and who recently visited its relatives in Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Turkey.
According to the Kazakh International Bureau for Human Rights and Rule of Law, more than 160 ethnic Kazakhs were convicted in China for religious reasons. Among the detained Kazakhs in China there are those who moved to their historical homeland in Kazakhstan and obtained the citizenship of Kazakhstan. They were detained while visiting China to sell their homes. Relatives of the detained ethnic Kazakhs appealed to the President of Kazakhstan Nursultan Nazarbayev to assist in the release of convicted Kazakhs from Chinese prisons in accordance with the norms of international law. Only in May 2018 Chinese security services conducted searches in the homes of 30,000 Kazakh families. All materials concerning the Islamic religion were confiscated: flags, books, photos, audio and video materials.
The situation of Uighur Muslims in Xinjiang remains even more catastrophic. According Maya Wang, senior China researcher at Human Rights Watch, 800 000 members of China’s Muslim Uighur minority have been forced into aso-called ‘Political Re-Education Camp’. Uyghur exile group estimates that up to 1 million Uyghurs have been sent to these modern concentration camps throughout the region since April 2017.The scale of the detainees is striking: more than three thousand residents – nearly 10 percent of the population of a township in ethnic Uyghur-dominated Kashgar prefecture detained in the concentration camps. ‘Political Re-Education Camps’ are crowded, but the inflow is not weakening.
The religious persecution in the Celestial Empire
Since 2017, Chinese authorities have banned giving children names with Islamic meanings such as Islam, Imam, Muhammad, Meqa, Medina, Saddam, Haji and Quran. According to the “Rule of Naming of Ethnic Minorities”, children with such names will be excluded from the state registration system, which provides access to health care and education. The Chinese messenger WeChat distributed a list of 28 banned Muslim names that concern not only Uighurs but also Kazakhs and Kyrgyz.
According to Human Rights Watch, Chinese authorities in Xinjiang have collected DNA samples, fingerprints, iris scans, and blood types of all Muslims in the region between the age of 12 and 65, which is a violation of human rights. With the help of biometric data, law enforcement agencies monitoring the movement of all Muslims.
The measures, many of which are now being rolled out in Xinjiang, include also neighborhood “grid” reporting systems, widespread checkpoints and searches, extensive electronic surveillance, the confiscation of passports and compulsory political education courses for returnees from abroad. To implement the measures, large numbers of auxiliary police have been recruited.
New Communist Party boss of Xinjiang, Chen Quangguo ordered all Uighurs, Kazakhs and Kyrgyz to hand over their passport for storage to police stations. Without the permission of state bodies, the Muslims of Xinjiang are forbidden to go abroad and move inside China. Officials of local administrations regularly check on Uighur houses and apartments, checking whether all the registered ones are in place. Absence without a good reason for more than one day is punishable by administrative punishment in the form of arrest in the ‘Political Re-Education Camp’. According to the ethnic Kazakh Omirbek Bekaly, in the re-education camp, the arrested Muslims daily performed songs about the Communist Party, praised the party and the current president of China Xi Jinping before meals, studied Chinese, history and laws of China, and worked on construction sites.
Xi Jinping wants to create a “sinicize” Islam
This indicates that after strengthening its authoritarian power and gaining access to lifelong rule by the country, China’s leader Xi Jinping, under the pretext of fighting against international terrorism, separatism and religious extremism began actively pursuing anti-Islamic policies in Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region. The 19th National Congress of the Communist Party of China in October 2017 and the First Session of the 13th National People’s Congress in March 2018 were accompanied by mass detentions and persecutions of the Muslim minority in the West. These important political events not only consolidated huge power in the hands of Xi Jinping and raised him to the level of Qin’s emperors and the Chairman Mao Zedong, but also gave him carte blanche to continue anti-Islamic policies in the Celestial Empire. The Chinese Communist Party has launched a campaign to “sinicize religions” in China. The goal of “sinicizing religions” in China is intended to make “socialist core values” play a leading role in the religious community. According to this, Chinese authorities intensified the campaign to force the Islam to adapt to “socialist society.”
Beijing considers its strategic task in the field of security to be to fight against the jihadists of the Turkestan Islamic Party (TIP), which have the goal of liberating Xinjiang from the Chinese Communists and building an Islamic Caliphate there. Today TIP fighters are in Syrian Idlib and are fighting against the government of Bashar Assad. Also,there is another Uyghur militant group Katibat al Ghuraba al Turkistani (KGT) fighting in Syria, which was established in July 2017.There are Uighur militants in the ranks of the Uzbek grouping Katibat al Tawhid wal Jihad.All three groups are a structural subdivision of the pro-Sunni group al Qaeda and have operated alongside Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham. The Chinese authorities are seriously concerned about the spread of the al Qaeda jihadist ideology among the Muslim population of Xinjiang.
If until 2012, China pursued a policy of “soft assimilation” of Uighur into Chinese society by popularizing the Chinese language and culture, by raising their social and economic standard of living, then after the coming to power of the hard and ambitious leader Xi Jinping, the attitude of the authorities towards the Muslim minority has changed. Today, the strategy of the Celestial Empire is to erase the religious identity of Uighurs, Kazakhs and Kyrgyz.
Beijing believes that Islam, along with language, culture and traditions, is the main factor that allows ethnic minorities to maintain their identity and strengthen separatism. Therefore, the authorities have taken total control over the religious activities of Muslims in recent years. Residents of Xinjiang, professing Islam, are defenceless in the face of Chinese police repression.
Beijing rejects all accusations of international organizations and Western powers about human rights violations. In response to the call of the Acting Assistant Secretary of State Laura Stone, U.S. Senator Marco Rubio and Representative Chris Smith — the co-chairs of the Congressional-Executive Commission on China to respect the religious feelings of Muslims, the Chinese authorities harshly responded not to interfere in internal affairs. It is more convenient for the Chinese authorities to position their repressive policies as a fight against international terrorist groups that have external influence.
However, Beijing is unlikely to defeat Islamic radicalism and Uyghur separatism only by repressive measures. Total control and excessive pressure on Muslims will cause a backlash and force them to join jihadist groups. ’Sinicize Islam’ in China and the ban on the performance of religious rituals touch the subtle feelings of Muslims and increasingly alienates them from Chinese ‘socialist core values’.
03 Jun 2018/Sunday Written by Mohd Tahir Shafi