Authorities in northwest China’s Xinjiang region have set up special “green lanes” for ethnic Han Chinese drivers to bypass security on roads leading into Hotan (in Chinese, Hetian) city, sources said, while Muslim Uyghurs submit to inspections that include ID checks and body searches.
A Uyghur businessman, who spoke on condition of anonymity, told RFA’s Uyghur Service that he had recently travelled the 500 kilometers (310 miles) southeast from his hometown of Kashgar (Kashi) to Hotan for work, and was stopped by authorities as he tried to enter the city.
“The first problem I faced on entering Hotan was when I drove into the left hand lane [at a checkpoint], where the queue was far shorter than the right hand lane,” he said.
“Suddenly two policemen—one Uyghur and one [Han] Chinese—ran towards me, waving and shouting, ‘Stop, you are not allowed to use this lane!’ I asked why, and they said, ‘You must remain in the right hand lane until you and your vehicle have been inspected and given clearance to proceed.’”
The businessman told RFA that similar checkpoints with separate lanes “are everywhere” leading into Hotan city—the seat of Hotan prefecture, where two deadly attacks took place in Qaraqash (Moyu) county in December 2016 and in Guma (Pishan) county in February this year.
At the checkpoints, Uyghur drivers are required to exit their vehicles, place their IDs into a card reader, and walk through a body scanner, before they are permitted to continue.
“Uyghur people must follow these procedures before being allowed to enter the city, whereas Han Chinese can enter the city via the green lane, without any checks,” he said.
A special checkpoint was under construction that, when completed, would be used to take x-ray images of a vehicle’s undercarriage, he added.
Drivers are not permitted to express dissatisfaction with the separate treatment, the businessman said, as “police have the right to open fire on us if we challenge their authority,” or detain anyone who complains.
“As we were fully aware of the consequences, we followed the rules silently,” he said.
“To be honest I was very nervous and fearful … There is no room for conversation, dialogue, or expressing your opinion.”
Preferential treatment for Han Chinese does not end at the outskirts of Hotan, according to the businessman, who said he later attended a dinner organized by university friends at an upscale restaurant in the city and encountered security cameras inside the establishment.
“My friends told me that the cameras were connected to the Public Security Bureau and regional committee office,” he said.
“If any incident occurs which is deemed to cause discomfort to [Han] Chinese costumers, the restaurant will be forced to close for 15 days, during which the owner and restaurant security personnel would be detained.”
The businessman said that residents of Hotan had also been ordered to destroy any religious objects in their home as part of “strike hard” campaigns regularly conducted by authorities in Xinjiang, which include police raids on Uyghur households, restrictions on Islamic practices, and curbs on the culture and language of the Uyghur people, such as videos and other material.
“Any items with Arabic writing—whether written in simple Uyghur Arabic script or religious Arabic script—were ordered destroyed,” he said.
“We actually witnessed people smashing such items.”
On his return to Kashgar, the businessman said he did not encounter any road checkpoints that held Han Chinese and Uyghurs to different security standards.
Uyghurs and Hans ‘divided’
While reports indicate that authorities have set up additional security measures at the entrances to villages, towns and cities throughout Hotan prefecture in the wake of the two recent attacks, the businessman’s account is the first to suggest that Han Chinese in the region are being allowed to bypass checkpoints.
A police officer at a station in Hotan confirmed the use of a “green lane” for Han Chinese and “law enforcement” approaching the city, when contacted by RFA.
“People who hold special permits from the Public Security Bureau and judiciary can freely pass [the checkpoint] via the green lane … [while] all other people must pass through the ID and body scanner checkpoints,” said the officer, who also asked to remain unnamed.
“[Everybody with the judiciary] and Han people can pass through, and others must go through the safety inspection.”
Only Uyghurs “who belong to law enforcement” can bypass the checkpoint,” he said, though Han Chinese drivers do not have to be members of law enforcement to use the “green lane.”
“The Uyghurs and Hans are divided,” the officer said.
“If you are driving in the right lane, you will see the checkpoint. If you’re driving in the left lane, you will see a ‘pass through’ sign.”
The ruling Chinese Communist Party blames some Uyghurs for a string of violent attacks and clashes in China in recent years, but critics say the government has exaggerated the threat from the ethnic group, and that repressive domestic policies are responsible for violence that has left hundreds dead since 2009.
Last week, the official Global Times reported that authorities in Kashgar and nearby Tumshuk (Tumushuke) city had begun deploying new “high-tech body security scanners” for road security checks, in a bid to “enhance counter-terrorism work” in the lead up to the 19th National Congress of the China’s Communist Party on Oct. 18.
Reported by Jilil Kashgary for RFA’s Uyghur Service. Translated by Mamatjan Juma. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.