The leader of the World Uyghur Congress has denounced news last week that Chinese police had caught or thwarted 181 different terrorist gangs in the country’s restive northwestern region during its most recent yearlong crackdown against what it views as terrorism in the largely Muslim region.
Authorities rolled out the “strike hard” campaign following a deadly suicide bombing in May 2014 in a market in Urumqi, the regional capital of the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region. They blamed the attack, which killed 39 people, on separatists from the predominantly Muslim minority Uyghur group.
But Rebiya Kadeer, chairperson of the World Uyghur Congress in Washington, told RFA’s Uyghur Service that the terrorist gang roundup constituted revenge for the suicide bombing.
“It is a celebration statement of their [Chinese authorities’] strike hard campaign which they started last May 22 after the Urumqi morning bazaar attack to take revenge against the entire Uyghur people,” she said.
Chinese police destroyed 181 violent terrorist gangs, of which 96.2 percent were thwarted in the planning stages, and 112 suspects surrendered, state-run Xinhua news agency reported, citing data from the publicity office of the regional committee of the Communist Party of China.
Kadeer pointed out that there was no way to check the accuracy of the figure and said the 181 reported terrorist gangs had nothing to do with last year’s bazaar attack.
“China took revenge upon the entire Uyghur people for the deeds of five Uyghurs,” who were responsible for the deadly blast.
“No modern country would see this as a victory, and it would not show it off, because punishing entire people for the deeds of a small group cannot be seen as a positive result from any legal, moral and political point of view,” she said.
Uyghur groups, such as the World Uyghur Congress, have been critical of Chinese authorities who associate Uyghurs with international terrorist groups such as the Islamic State, arguing that the policy is discriminatory.
Police raids and restrictions on religion
The Xinjiang region, which is home to more than 10 million Turkic-speaking Uyghurs, has seen an upsurge in violence that has left hundreds dead since 2012, and which China has blamed on terrorists and Islamist insurgents seeking to establish an independent state called East Turkestan.
The strike hard campaigns have included police raids on Uyghur households, restrictions on Islamic practices, and curbs on the culture and language of the Uyghur people in the name of fighting separatism, religious extremism and terrorism.
Scores of people have been sentenced to death as part of the drive, while hundreds have been jailed or detained on terrorism-related offences.
The most recent news, however, is worrisome for the region’s future because such acts of “vengeance” would only increase tensions and complicate the situation, Kadeer said, and ultimately weaken peace and stability in the region.
“This is a clear signal that the situation in East Turkestan will continue to deteriorate,” she said.
Kadeer noted that Wang Lequan, the former Xinjiang Communist Party Secretary until 2010, carried out a similar crackdown on Uyghurs in the region for 10 years, targeting those whose opinions differed from that of the Chinese government.
Nevertheless, Chinese authorities have put a positive spin on the crackdown in the region.
“To weaken the clout of religious extremism, local authorities have vigorously promoted modern living in the region,” said Xinhua’s article about the gang bust. “For example, they have encouraged Uyghur women to abandon the burqa, an Islamic garment that covers women's faces, and instead wear their colorful traditional dress.
“The regional legislature has approved a regulation banning the wearing of the burqa in public places in Urumqi.”
Reported by Shohret Hoshur of RFA’s Uyghur Service. Translated by Mamatjan Juma. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.