China's Uyghur University Students Are Closely Watched For Their Political Views

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Tourists take photos of a mosque near the city bazaar in Xinjiang's capital Urumqi, July 5, 2013
Tourists take photos of a mosque near the city bazaar in Xinjiang's capital Urumqi, July 5, 2013

Ethnic Uyghur students at a top university in northwestern China’s Xinjiang region are being closely checked for their political and religious views by student informers who report to “political guides” embedded in the university staff, a former school administrator says.

“Student spies are hidden in every classroom, dormitory, and lecture hall,” a former staff member in the president’s office of Xinjiang Normal University told RFA’s Uyghur Service.

“They record students’ debates, arguments, and discussions of sensitive subjects, and sometimes they raise certain topics themselves just to draw out students’ comments and opinions,” RFA’s source said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Though the school, which is located in the regional capital Urumqi, educates both ethnic Uyghurs and Han Chinese, informers are increasingly being drawn from the Uyghur student population because university authorities are more interested in the political views of this group, he said.

“Each year, dozens of Uyghur students become the subjects of student spies’ secret reports, with some accused of religious extremism and others labeled as ‘separatists’ or ‘ethnic nationalists,” he said.

Student informers submit their reports to “political guides” who are assigned to each department of the school and operate under the supervision of the ruling Chinese Communist Party’s university branch, the source said, adding that the “guides” also teach political courses at the school.

The student spies are later employed as “guides” themselves, or are sent to their home prefectures after graduating with special recommendations from the Party for promotion in any job they take, the source said.

Political loyalty important

Han Chinese and Uyghur students are meanwhile selected for study abroad, with financial support provided by China’s Ministry of Education, based primarily on their “political qualifications,” RFA’s source said.

“The candidates who are selected first are Communist Party members, active in Party programs, or government loyalists.”

“Of course, academic achievements are also considered, but ‘political qualifications’ are the most important criteria,” he said.

Xinjiang, which is home to millions of Turkic-speaking Uyghurs, has seen an upsurge in violence that has left hundreds dead since 2012, and which China has blamed on terrorists and Islamic insurgents seeking to establish an independent state.

But 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.

Reported by Eset Sulaiman for RFA’s Uyghur Service. Translated by Eset Sulaiman. Written in English for Richard Finney.





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