Life has never been easy for Uyghurs, unwilling subjects of China, whose land – strategically located in Central Asia – is rich in oil and other natural resources coveted by Chinese industry. Uyghurs have long complained of discrimination, religious repression, and cultural suppression under Chinese rule.
But few residents of the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region had bargained for Communist Party Secretary Chen Quanguo, who came to power in August 2016 and has rolled out one harsh policy after another targeting the Muslim Uyghurs, using many of the same tactics he pioneered to suppress ethnic Tibetans in his previous post as Party Secretary in the Tibet Autonomous Region.
Chen’s administration has deployed a vast surveillance system throughout Xinjiang, tracking the movements of ordinary Uyghurs. Authorities raid Uyghur households, restrict Islamic practices, force Uyghurs to get written permits to travel outside their villages, and place curbs on the culture and language of the Uyghur people. Under a particularly intrusive program called “becoming kin,” Uyghur households “adopt” Han Chinese officials who monitor local residents and promote Beijing’s policies in Xinjiang. Under the program, 1.1 million Han Chinese officials have been placed with 1.6 million Uyghur families, according to an official report.
China blames some Uyghurs for "terrorist" attacks and says many were radicalized through foreign contacts, but experts say the threat is exaggerated. Thousands of Uyghurs accused of having "extremist" and "politically incorrect" views – as well as those who have lived or worked abroad – have been detained without trial in political re-education camps throughout Xinjiang. Students of Islam who were sent to study in Egypt with official blessing have since been rounded up and forcefully repatriated.
With this project, we aim to lay out Chen’s systematic efforts to turn the region into a police state, and to describe the ways in which his curbs on the liberties of everyday Uyghurs are violating China’s own constitution.