Updated at 3:25 p.m. on 2012-11-12
Uyghurs in northwestern China are increasingly questioning the effectiveness of Xinjiang governor Nur Bekri, as petitioners find their grievances go unaddressed and see the regional leader’s orders ignored by local officials.
The 51-year-old ethnically Uyghur chairman of the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region was appointed to his current post in January 2008, replacing Ismail Tiliwaldi, who resigned in December 2007 to become a Vice-Chairman of the Standing Committee of China’s parliament, the National People's Congress.
But a number of sensitive incidents, including deadly Urumqi violence between the ethnic Uyghurs and the Han Chinese in June 2009 which left 200 dead according to official figures, have marred Nur Bekri’s tenure and called his authority into question, according to sources in the region.
The chairman is now being commonly referred to as “Nol Bekri,” a play on his name which means “Zero Bekri” in the Uyghur language, because of his inability to lead, a female Uyghur petitioner told RFA’s Uyghur service on condition of anonymity.
When asked if she had submitted her grievances to Nur Bekri, the petitioner said she had not, because “he can do nothing at all.”
“People are saying that his grievances are worse than ours. He cannot make anybody do anything,” she said.
“That is why everybody calls him ‘Zero Bekri’.”
Members of a Uyghur family from Shule county in western Xinjiang’s Kasghgar prefecture petitioning for compensation from local officials over the death of one of their sons and the severe injuring of another said Nur Bekri’s assistance had done little for their cause.
The young boys had been playing in a local field when they accidentally exploded a grenade left there by Chinese soldiers during a drill in an incident that occurred about 20 years ago, family sources said.
The surviving son, Tursun Ghopur, said he lost one of his eyes in the aftermath of the explosion and maintains that surgeons who treated him at the Chinese military hospital took his eye out and sold it to another patient.
After decades of petitioning regional officials in vain, the family was informed in March that Nur Bekri had personally taken up the case, ordering relevant government officials to award them 1.75 million yuan (U.S. $278,915) in compensation for their loss and suffering.
The family was given a document of the order signed by Nur Bekri and told that the directive had been issued to both Kashgar prefectural officials and officials at the Shule county level.
But one of the family members told RFA that when they took the signed document to the Shule county petitioners’ office, officials there “laughed in our faces.”
“The head of the petitioners’ office told us that Nur Bekri should be the one to give us the money. He laughed at us and laughed at the document signed by Nur Bekri,” the family member said.
“He also said, ‘Instead of giving you 1 million yuan, we’d rather pay 5 million yuan to party officials to make this case disappear.”
The family member said that Nur Bekri avoided the issue when the family spoke with him after the incident.
Calls to Nur Bekri's office for comment on the claims went unanswered.
According to sources in the region, Uyghurs are secretly circulating a poem about the embattled leader called “Salaam, Nur Bekri,” which details his ineffectiveness as a leader, and calling him a “puppet” of Beijing.
The poem laments his failure to protect Uyghur as the official language in regional schools and his support of a policy which sends young Uyghur girls to jobs outside of Xinjiang, high unemployment amongst Uyghurs in the region, and the influx of Han Chinese for resources in Xinjiang under his watch.
Uyghurs in Xinjiang often complain of policies favoring Han Chinese migration into the region and what they call the unfair allocation of resources to Chinese residents.
Members of the Uyghur exile community have called for the removal of Nur Bekri ahead the 18th National Party Congress—a crucial leadership meeting of the ruling Chinese Communist Party—to be held in Beijing next month.
In September, Dolkun Isa, executive committee chairman of the Munich-based World Uyghur Congress (WUC), said that for real change to be seen in the region, the current leaders in Xinjiang—regional chairman Nur Bekri and party secretary Zhang Chunxian—would have to be replaced with representatives elected by Uyghurs.
“If a new, more democratic leadership came to power, then Zhang Chunxian and Nur Bekri should be removed and the Uyghur people should have the opportunity to elect the Uyghur representatives they want.”
Following the 2009 Urumqi unrest, Nur Bekri delivered a televised address in which he singled out those he believed to have orchestrated the violence, including overseas Uyghur exile groups and outspoken Uyghur economics professor Ilham Tohti.
Ilham Tohti, who had published several articles critical of the Chinese government’s policies in Xinjiang on his website Uyghur Online, responded by calling Nur Bekri “unqualified” for his position.
“He doesn’t care about Uyghurs,” Ilham Tohti said at the time. “He’s always stressed the stability and security of Xinjiang and threatened Uyghurs.”
“Xinjiang has developed, but the people are living in poverty, especially Uyghurs. Laws that should have been applied in the Uyghur Autonomous Region haven’t been implemented.”
Nur Bekri had earlier served as the region’s deputy chairman since 2005 and as mayor of Urumqi before that.
Reported by Shohret Hoshur for RFA’s Uyghur service. Translated by Mamatjan Juma. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story said Tursun Ghopur's family lives in Yengisar county in Kashgar prefecture. The family lives in Shule county in Kashgar prefecture.