WASHINGTON—A handwritten poster that Chinese authorities designated “separatist” when it appeared in a remote town in the northwestern Uyghur region of Xinjiang has led to a wave of arrests, interrogations, and fines for local people over the last 3-1/2 years, including the detention of two schoolchildren, residents say.
A resident from Terem village in Yopurgha county, whose initial sentence was marred by noise on the phone line, said the poster “was posted on June 19, 2003. Just because someone’s handwriting might be similar to that on the poster, but based only on suspicion, hundreds—even up to 1,000—people were arrested,” he told RFA’s Uyghur service.
“Thousands of yuan were collected from the people who were arrested. The money was never returned—not even after they were released,” said the man, who identified himself only as a Uyghur farmer from Yopurgha county, where Terem is located.
“Almost everyone who prays five times and who practices their faith as a Muslim from Bayawan town, Terem town, Achchiq town, and Yopurgha county was arrested. The suffering of the people is tremendous,” said the farmer
Local farmers contacted by RFA reporter Guljekre confirmed the incident, saying anyone who wrote good Arabic calligraphy had been detained on suspicion of writing the poster and fined a large proportion of their monthly income, even if no charges were laid against them.
The Terem farmers said police were trying to keep the incident secret from the outside world and were still conducting a full investigation in mid-February 2007, which even included local high-school students who had gone to non-Uyghur cities to study.
A man who answered the telephone at the Terem high school said some people were still being held, including two high school students.
“They released the teachers but have not released two students,” he said. “It’s been about 15-20 days now. Someone named Abdureshit Samsaq was arrested but was released with a notice saying he was innocent.”
“The incident took place back in 2003. Someone named Mahmut Sidick, I know, was one of the boys who is being incarcerated.”
Almost everyone who prays five times and who practices their faith as a Muslim from Bayawan town, Terem town, Achchiq town, and others from Yopurgha county was arrested. The suffering of the people is tremendous.
Earlier, farmer Heytahun Hoshur was held for interrogation for 130 days and fined several thousand yuan that hasn't been refunded, although police recognized his innocence.
Residents said Turghun Hudawerdi, the police officer in charge of criminal cases at the Terem police station, was promoted to political commissioner of the police station after he collected several hundred thousand yuan in fines from thousands of farmers in Terem town, Achchiq town, and Yopurgha county following the poster incident.
An officer who answered the phone at the Terem police station confirmed that Turghun Hudawerdi was the former police chief who had now become commissioner.
A second officer, asked for details of recent developments, said: “You mean the separatist case, right?” But he declined to comment further when the RFA reporter disclosed her identity.
The mayor of Terem denied knowledge of the case. “I do not know this. I have no knowledge of such [a] thing,” he said, when asked about the poster and allegations of up to 1,000 arrests.
In December 1999, Abdughani Imin and Obulkasim Abliz hoisted the flag of East Turkestan, the short-lived Uyghur republic, in place of the Chinese flag, on the Yopurgha county courthouse. They were sentenced to 15 and 13 years in jail respectively.
Uyghurs constitute a distinct, Turkic-speaking, Muslim minority in northwestern China and Central Asia. They declared a short-lived East Turkestan Republic in Xinjiang in the late 1930s and 40s but have remained under Beijing’s control since 1949.
China has waged a campaign over the last decade against what it says are violent separatists and Islamic extremists attempting to set up an independent “East Turkestan” in Xinjiang, which shares a border with Afghanistan, Pakistan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, Russia, and Mongolia.
Original reporting in Uyghur by Guljekre. RFA Uyghur service director: Dolkun Kamberi. Written and produced in English by Luisetta Mudie. Edited by Sarah Jackson-Han.