Authorities in China’s Xinjiang region have evicted a Muslim Uyghur woman from her rental property for wearing a veil covering her face, despite having no legal basis to do so, claiming that the action was taken for “security reasons.”
Arzugul Memet was informed on Aug. 4 in writing by her neighborhood residence committee that her apartment in the Xinjiang capital Urumqi would be sealed because she “did not cooperate with our … rule against covering up and wearing a face veil,” according to a notice hung on her door.
The notice, issued by the Tengritagh district’s Ceramic Factory Neighborhood Committee, was based on general rules for renting of homes in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, according to a copy of the document provided to RFA’s Uyghur Service by an area resident.
Officials said the action was taken based on security grounds, indicating that they were unable to identify Arzugul Memet as her face was covered. But there are no specific laws in Xinjiang, home of the mostly Muslim ethnic minority Uyghurs, barring veiled women from renting homes.
A copy of a second notice from the neighborhood committee, also posted on the door, confirmed that the order to seal the residence had been carried out on Aug. 16.
According to a report on Uyghur Online, a website managed by Uyghur scholar Ilham Tohti which discusses social issues and news from Xinjiang, Arzugul Memet was given 72 hours from the date the notice was served to vacate the premises.
Attempts to contact her were unsuccessful, as she had already left the neighborhood and her whereabouts were unknown.
RFA contacted an official with the local residential management office who confirmed that Arzugul Memet had been evicted from her apartment, despite a lack of a legal basis to do so.
“Yes, we dealt with her issue, so what,” said the official, speaking on condition of anonymity.
“We do not have any law that says we are not allowed to rent houses out to Uyghurs who cover themselves, but it has been administered like that in our district across the board.”
The official said that the internal regulation for the residential management office was a matter of “public security.”
“If they cover themselves up completely, how can we match their IDs if we cannot see their faces when we go to check on them? How do we know who is coming into the building and who is going out?” he asked.
“This is a matter of public security.”
The official said that ID checks of residents are carried out daily and that if women who cover their faces do not comply with orders to remove their veils, they are told to “move to other places where they do not have such regulations.”
“Especially when they leave, they must show their faces. The rule here is: show your face or return to your hometown where you belong.”
He said that the regulation had been in effect since July 5, 2009, when clashes in Urumqi between the minority Uyghurs and majority Han Chinese left some 200 people dead and 1,700 injured, according to official media reports.
“We have to make sure that there will be no covered-up ladies here in our district. That is the order,” he said.
“We cannot be humane here, because [our superiors] are not going to be humane to us. I do not want to lose my job.”
‘Orders from the top’
A neighborhood committee worker, who also spoke to RFA on condition that her name be withheld, said that she knew about Arzugul Memet’s case, adding that while she disagrees with the policy, she felt compelled to enforce it at the risk of losing her livelihood.
“That is correct, she was a covered-up woman,” the worker said of Arzugul Memet.
“We cannot do anything about it but carry out the orders from the top … We have nothing to do with this policy.”
The worker reiterated that orders were to force covered women to show their faces or they would not be allowed to rent a home.
“[Unrest] is happening in other parts of our region so [officials] are afraid for their safety and ordered us to do this, I think. We have no choice,” she said.
“But people do not like this policy which forces them to uncover their faces.”
The worker said that officials from the neighborhood committee usually speak with the apartment owners first and ask them to tell their tenants not to cover their faces, but would also pressure them not to rent their properties to women who wear veils.
“We have orders that if covered women come to our offices we will not serve them. Period.”
Muslim Uyghurs in Xinjiang regularly complain of strict religious controls, including curbs on traditional and Islamic dress and appearance such as men’s beards and women’s veils.
Xinjiang has seen a spate of violence across the region in recent months that has led to a crackdown, with hundreds of Uyghurs detained for questioning by the authorities.
Chinese authorities usually blame the outbreaks on "terrorists" among the region's ethnic minority Muslim Uyghurs, but rights groups and experts say Beijing exaggerates the terrorism threat to take the heat off domestic policies that cause unrest or to justify the authorities' use of force against Uyghurs.
Uyghurs in Xinjiang say they have long suffered ethnic discrimination, oppressive religious controls, and continued poverty and joblessness, blaming their hardships partly on a massive influx of Han Chinese into the region.
Reported by Guliqiekela Keyoumu for RFA’s Uyghur Service. Translated by Mamatjan Juma. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.