As China’s ethnic Uyghur Muslim minority group falls under increasing suspicion amid terrorism concerns in the country’s northwest, authorities are fencing off entire neighborhoods in Xinjiang to conduct security checks, Uyghur sources say.
Construction of the barriers began after deadly ethnic riots ripped through the regional capital Urumqi in July 2009, and fences are now being built across the region, a neighborhood committee worker in Urumqi’s Tengritagh district told RFA’s Uyghur Service.
“Every neighborhood has a fence now,” RFA’s source said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
“They have check systems at the gate, but some neighborhoods are stricter and require people to swipe ID cards before they enter,” he said. “Our own neighborhood is more secure, so we have fewer checks.”
“Yes, we have fences in every neighborhood,” a Han Chinese office worker in the Ili River neighborhood of Ili (in Chinese, Yili) prefecture’s Ghulja City told RFA.
“We check the IDs of everyone who enters the area,” he said. “It has been like this for a while now. There is nothing wrong with it.”
“It’s only for security,” he said.
Yang, a security officer in Urumqi’s Gherbiysay neighborhood, said, “We check suspicious persons more carefully.”
“Basically, we check the Uyghurs,” he said.
“It’s for security, and [our orders are] very strict. We worry that incidents might happen.”
Contacted by RFA, a Uyghur businessman speaking on condition of anonymity after recently escaping from China said that similar restrictions are now in place across Xinjiang, with fences also being built in the prefectures of Kashgar (Kashi), Aksu (Akesu), and Hotan (Hetian).
“Enclosed neighborhoods are creating hardships in Uyghurs’ daily lives,” another Uyghur living outside Xinjiang said, also speaking on condition of anonymity.
“They cannot get into the neighborhoods without registering their names or leaving their IDs at the security gate, and security personnel constantly come into their homes without permission.”
“The Han Chinese residents of these neighborhoods are left alone, and are never checked at all,” she said.
Uyghurs in Xinjiang have long been subject to violent police raids on their households, restrictions on Islamic practices, and curbs on their culture and language by Chinese authorities who impose heavy-handed rule in the region.
But some 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 by Gulchehra Hoja for RFA’s Uyghur Service. Translated by Mamatjan Juma. Written in English by Richard Finney.