Villagers in a remote part of northwestern China’s troubled Xinjiang region are being forced by local authorities to spy on their neighbors, watching constantly for behavior deemed “suspicious” or opposed to Beijing’s rule over the mostly Muslim Uyghur region, sources say.
In a policy put in place almost two years ago, residents of Kizilsu village in Peyziwat (in Chinese, Jiashi) county in the Kashgar (Kashi) prefecture must now sign a “Joint Responsibility Contract” that threatens collective punishment for villagers found not in compliance with 30 specific regulations, sources said.
The contract, issued by the village office of the ruling Chinese Communist Party and the village government, divides residents into specified groups responsible for watching for prohibited activities such as unusual travel to or from the area, the teaching or promotion of Islam, and the spread of politically sensitive information to outside contacts.
Residents must also report fellow villagers who sell land or make unusual purchases, refuse to watch or read official news media, or suddenly quit smoking or drinking alcohol, sources said.
The new policy of mutual surveillance—established in August 2014 and recently confirmed by RFA’s Uyghur Service—is being carried out “with great success,” a deputy party secretary for the village told RFA.
“[Moreover], the few who have failed to uphold it have been punished according to the law,” the official said before hanging up the phone on learning that he was speaking to RFA.
Efforts are frequently made by investigators at both the village and county level to ensure the policy is properly enforced, an employee at a local state-owned firm said, adding, “social stability is now being very well maintained in the village.”
“All residents know they must strictly observe these regulations,” another source said.
“No one is left in our village now who wears religious dress,” she added.
By forcing Uyghur villagers to spy on each other, policies of the kind in force in Kizilsu appear aimed at creating a class of “local traitors” who will turn others in to the police for the sake of promised government rewards, Hamut Gokturk—former general secretary of the Istanbul-based East Turkestan Foundation—said.
Similarly, giving up smoking and drinking, behaviors discouraged by Islamic tradition, “is welcomed all over the world,” he said.
“But the Chinese government now calls this a ‘suspicious act,’” he said.
Rights groups accuse Chinese authorities of heavy-handed rule in Xinjiang, including violent police raids on Uyghur households, restrictions on Islamic practices, and curbs on the culture and language of the Uyghur people.
China regularly vows to crack down on what it calls the “three evils” of terrorism, separatism, and religious extremism in Xinjiang.
But experts outside China say Beijing has exaggerated the threat from Uyghur separatists, and that domestic policies are responsible for an upsurge in violence that has left hundreds dead since 2012.
Reported and translated by Kurban Niyaz for RFA’s Uyghur Service. Written in English by Richard Finney.