A Uyghur family living in northwestern China’s troubled Xinjiang region has been dogged by police surveillance and a series of arrests following the execution of a family member on terror charges almost 20 years ago, sources say.
The harassment, which some in Xinjiang are calling a form of “collective punishment,” began after the family’s eldest son, Abdulla Muniyaz, was put to death for his alleged involvement in a Feb. 25, 1997, bus bombing in the regional capital Urumqi, sources said.
“Since then, Muniyaz’s family has been picked out for surveillance by the public security authorities,” Hesen Eysa—security chief for Karasa village, Chagrag township, in Aqsu (in Chinese, Akesu) prefecture’s Onsu (Wensu) county—told RFA’s Uyghur Service.
“We have been closely watching their activities but have seen nothing suspicious in their behavior, as they are all simply struggling to survive because of poverty in our township and the large number of people in their family,” Eysa said.
Eysa was therefore surprised, he said, when he learned later that two other brothers in the family—Abduwayit Muniyaz and Yasin Muniyaz—had been detained in late 2013 for illegally trying to leave Xinjiang “to wage jihad.”
“What I believe is that they were simply trying to go abroad and find work to care for their family,” he said.
Shortly after the two were handed prison terms of 17 and 13 years respectively, three younger brothers of the Muniyaz family were jailed for voicing hostile feelings toward Han Chinese migrants to the area, a former government employee who attended their trial told RFA.
“Actually, they had only complained about the contracting out of farm work to Han migrants in the township, causing Uyghur farmers to lose their jobs and homes,” RFA’s source said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
“This is a common complaint throughout the Uyghur region,” he said.
A strong signal
Speaking separately, a high school teacher in Onsu county told RFA on condition of anonymity that the situation of the Muniyaz family “is not unique,” adding, “You can see such cases everywhere in Aksu.”
“This is a form of collective punishment, which is prohibited by international law,” the teacher said.
“But it is naïve to speak about international law in our region when our country’s own laws are ignored in the name of state security and social stability.”
“On the one hand, the authorities want to strengthen security by eliminating any potential opposition, and of course the members of any family in which one has been executed and others jailed won’t be in harmony with the government,” he said.
“On the other hand, the authorities are trying through collective punishment to send a strong signal to the public about the consequences of challenging the state.”
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 Shohret Hoshur for RFA's Uyghur Service. Written in English by Richard Finney.