To control Uyghurs, the Communist Chinese rulers of Xinjiang have employed control methods used by ancient Chinese dynasties, including the “baojia” system of community law enforcement, which groups households in units and in which residents monitor and report on one another.
Recent Communist Party secretaries Wang Lequan and Zhang Chunxian had used these measures in several prefectures in the south of Xinjiang. However, since Chen Quanguo took over the reins in August 2016, the system of mutual surveillance and layered responsibility has been widely and openly propagandized.
In recent years, various villages, towns and counties of Hotan (In Chinese, Hetian) prefecture successively issued one notice after another, offering rewards up to 500,000 yuan to those who provide tips on incidents related to “terrorism, violence, or religious extremism” or report suspicious activities or individuals to the police.
An on-duty officer at a police station in Kokyar township of Keriye (Yutian) county told RFA that the number of people who came to his station to report suspicious people or activities had increased since the notice was issued.
According to him, there were instances where neighbors kept a watchful eye on each other and provided information to the police.
“Rewards have been issued in Hotan. Here, we don’t have many [incidents] because things have been cleaned up. We have very few incidents here,” said the officer, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
Residents on neighborhood watch look for suspicious activities in a village near Korla, in China's Xinjiang region, Nov. 2, 2017. Photo: AP
Another on-duty officer at a police station in Keriye county’s Siyek township also confirmed that every ten households are grouped into one unit where they are responsible for each other’s activities, including monitoring visitors who come to their neighbors’ houses.
“We want to keep an eye on who is coming and leaving. We monitor those who come from another county to visit their relatives. We want to know the purpose of these visits,” the offer told RFA.
The Siyek township officer said that he doesn’t directly get reports from Uyghur residents, but that “they might report to police stations in their village.”
Residents in Guma (Pishan) county, describing the restrictions they face in their lives in a recent interview with RFA, said that if neighbors visit each other for more than 15 minutes, they have to report that to the police.
“If we go somewhere, we have report to the police. If we have relatives visiting us, even if they live 250 meters away from us, or if they visit us for more than 15 minutes, we will have to report that. Under the current situation, this is what we do,” said a Uyghur woman in Guma, who declined to be identified by name.
“If visitors stay at our house for more than half an hour, we will need to report it. They [the police] come and check on us,” said a man in Guma, who also declined to have his name published or broadcast.
Ilshat Hasan, president of the Uyghur American Association, said the offensive and extreme measures call to mind practices of Nazi Germany, Stalin’s Soviet Union, and other repressive regimes.
“Historical records show that in Nazi Germany and Stalin’s Soviet Union, father and son, husband and wife, and other relatives spied on each other, and denigrated each other to the degree that it absolutely destroyed trust in those societies. Some did it for money, while others used different excuses to punish those they disliked,” he told RFA.
“In fact, mutual trust has yet to be established in Chinese society. Through its policies, China wants to destroy Uyghurs’ virtues, including the respect and mutual trust that they [Uyghurs] have for one another. Ultimately, they want to establish a cruel society in which good people who tell the truth cannot survive,” said Hasan.
In this Nov. 5, 2017 photo, residents pass by a security check point with cameras in Kashgar in western China's Xinjiang region. Authorities are using detentions in political indoctrination centers and data-driven surveillance to impose a digital police state in the region of Xinjiang and its Uyghurs, a 10-million strong, Turkic-speaking Muslim minority Beijing fears could be influenced by extremism. Photo: AP/Ng Han Guan
U.S.-based physician Jur'et Obul, a Uyghur activist, told RFA he could think of no other society in which people are monitored 24/7 and “do not even have the freedom to live and sleep peacefully in their homes.”
“We have heard stories about the Nazis, and watched movies about the atrocities committed by the Chinese communists during the Cultural Revolution,” he said.
“However, some of the things that have recently been taking place [in Xinjiang] are beyond one’s imagination. For example, the policy that encourages people to spy on each other is beyond belief,” added Obul.
“I believe the Uyghurs’ plight is currently a lot worse than in any other period in history. We never thought they [China] would do this. We now realize that they will do even worse things in the future,” he told RFA.
Ondrej Klimes, a researcher at the Czech Academy of Sciences in Prague, told RFA that he understands the Uyghurs’ plight because the Czech people had also lived under the pressure of big powers, such as Germany and the Soviet Union, in recent history.
“There are many similarities between the historic situation of the Czech people and the Uyghurs’ current circumstances. In terms of population, both are basically the same. There are around 10 million people in both places. Both peoples lived next-door to big powers. We experienced living under a big authoritarian regime. Therefore, we are not unfamiliar with issues related to imperialism and communism,” he said.
There are also key differences between the two situations, said Klimes.
“Czechoslovakia was an independent country. Xinjiang is an autonomous region,” he said.
“There was the Russian army and reconnaissance and intelligence personnel in Czechoslovakia. They did not move millions of Russians to Czechoslovakia. Ethnic policies did not exist in Czechoslovakia,” added Klimes.
Russia’s goal “was to spread communist ideology” to Eastern Europe, he said.
“However, in China, it is ethnic control in which one ethnic group attempts to change the ethnic identity of another ethnic group,” said Klimes.