China's mostly Muslim Uyghur minority could face a further backlash of discrimination in the wake of the Kunming railway station killings as the authorities tighten security restrictions based on ethnic profiling, an official from the troubled northwestern Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region has warned.
Mutalif Obul, commissioner of Xinjiang's Kashgar prefecture, was quoted saying Wednesday in a state-run daily that Chinese cities had stepped up measures targeting Uyghurs on the basis of their ethnicity following the Saturday stabbing that left 33 dead in what authorities have labeled a "terror attack" carried out by Uyghur separatists.
"But I hope authorities will also consider the feeling of the Xinjiang people," Obul was reported saying by the official English-language China Daily newspaper, referring to the Turkic-speaking Uyghur group.
"Finding employment outside the region may become difficult for Xinjiang people after the attack, but, hopefully, that will be just a short-term problem," he said.
His warning of discrimination based on ethnicity—which is indicated on all Chinese identity cards—was borne out by reports from the southwestern city of Guilin, where a guesthouse owner said police had issued orders to local businesses to single out Uyghurs for special restrictions.
"We are not accepting Xinjiang people as guests now," a guesthouse proprietor surnamed Zhang told RFA after a woman died in Guilin in a knife attack on the same day as the Kunming violence, with reports indicating the suspect was also a Uyghur.
"[The police] sent out [an order], because we run a guesthouse," Zhang said.
"They said that if any Xinjiang people come in, we shouldn't let them stay here, or if they want to stay we should report it to them."
Chinese premier Li Keqiang on Wednesday pledged to crack down on terrorism in the wake of the attacks in the railway station of southwestern Yunnan province's capital Kunming. Eight assailants—four of whom were shot dead and the others captured by police—killed 29 people and injured about 140 as they slashed indiscriminately at people queuing to buy tickets at the busy railway terminal, state media reported.
"We will ... insist on combating violence and terrorism in order to maintain national security and good social order," Li told delegates to China's rubber stamp parliament, the National People's Congress (NPC), which opened in Beijing on Wednesday.
"We [have] strongly condemned the serious terrorist violence that happened in the Kunming train station in Yunnan on March 1," he said.
"We shall resolutely combat all kinds of terrorist crimes that desecrate the country's laws and challenge human civilization," he said.
"We shall ensure the personal and property safety of all people," he said.
In Kunming, however, Uyghurs said they have long been subjected to restrictions and discrimination based on their ethnicity.
"Chinese immigrants took over our wealth, lands, houses, job opportunities, business, and everything [back in Xinjiang]," one man, who asked to remain anonymous, said. "The Chinese government also banned our religion and language."
He said Uyghurs outside Xinjiang were routinely targeted by the authorities.
"They don't let us take buses and taxis, and we are not allowed stay in hotels," the man said. "Hospitals do not accept us if we are sick and we are harassed everywhere."
'Enemy in their own land'
Beijing-based writer Wang Lixiong, who follows Uyghur and Tibetan issues closely, said the attacks had arisen in the first place from the official attitude towards Uyghurs, and their culture and religion, as the enemy.
"The biggest problem doesn't lie with a small number of terrorists," he said.
"The biggest danger lies with the fact that Xinjiang's people are regarded as the enemy in their own land."
Dilxat Raxit, spokesman for the Munich-based World Uyghur Congress, repeated his condemnation of the violence in Kunming and of any violence that targets innocent people.
"I call on Uyghurs and Han Chinese to be more rational, and not to incite or target Uyghurs or Han Chinese in acts of discrimination," Raxit said.
"We hope that the Chinese public will also come to better understand the great burden of a range of government policies that is borne by Uyghurs."
He said that many Uyghurs were now trying to leave China to escape a range of oppressive policies and discrimination in public life, including religion, employment, and travel.
"Many Uyghurs' lives are endangered, and they have no way to exist under the oppressive policies in their hometowns," Raxit said. "They wish to leave China to leave behind this oppression."
Reported by Rukiye Turdush for RFA's Uyghur Service, by Ho Shan for the Cantonese Service, and by Tian Yi for the Mandarin Service. Translated by Rukiye Turdush and Luisetta Mudie. Written in English by Luisetta Mudie.