Uyghurs Held in Clampdown

A new round of detentions is reported in China's northwesternmost region.

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kashgar-search Ethnic Uyghurs' bags are searched in the main square in Xinjiang's famed Silk Road city of Kashgar on August 8, 2008.
HONG KONG—Authorities the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR), home to the mostly Muslim Uyghur ethnic minority, have detained a number of youths in an anti-separatism campaign ahead of the sensitive 60th anniversary of communist rule, sources in the region said.

The latest "100-day Strike Hard" campaign was launched following a nationwide teleconference by Beijing's ministry of public security in April, which called on police departments across the country to be especially vigilant as the Communist Party prepares to celebrate its 60th anniversary on Oct. 1.

I have been arrested three times already..."
Uyghur man

"The Chinese government is trying really hard to destroy us, including our culture, our religion, and our language," a young man from the Gulja [in Chinese, Yining] region of Xinjiang, said.

Probe sought

He called on international human rights groups to carry out an investigation and said he knew of 13 Uyghurs, mostly young men, who had been detained in April and May in the Gulja area, which saw a violent suppression of an uprising against Chinese rule in 1997.

He said a Uyghur man named Osmanjan was detained by local police in March or April in Kara Bughra, Kunas county, and was currently being held in Kunas prison, and that Yasinjan, of Kipekyuz in Gulja county, was also detained in March or April. A third man, Abduheni Tayir, was detained in Jiliyuzi, also in Gulja county, in May.

Residents of Gulja have also been detained in the Uyghur capital Urumqi in May, the Uyghur man said, with the detainees including a man identified as Kasimjan from Onyar in Gulja county, Mehmutjan from Cholukay village in Gulja county, and Abduhalik from Kash in the same county.

Further Gulja county detentions had followed in May, the Uyghur man said, including Abduwahap Mutellip in Tohochiyuz village, Abdugheni Ablikim from Tohochiyuz village, Ilham from Onyar village Islam from Cholukay, and Yarmamet from Penjim.

An officer who answered the phone at the Gulja police station confirmed that some detentions had taken place but declined to give details.

"Yes, in May, we did detain some people who took part in illegal religious activities," the officer said. "But we cannot tell you their names. This is our rule."

The authorities also detained a 50-year-old imam of the Tawakchi mosque in Gulja city, the Uyghur man said, adding that he believed himself to be under threat as well.

"I know I am in great danger," he said. "I have been arrested three times already by the police. And I stayed in prison for more than 10 years."

He said seven of his relatives were killed during the suppression of the Gulja demonstrations in 1997.

Blamed for separatism

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.

Beijing has launched a massive development initiative in the poorer western regions of the country in recent years, while at the same time actively encouraging the migration of Han Chinese to the troubled region.

Many Uyghurs are bitterly opposed to Beijing’s rule in Xinjiang.

Beijing blames Uyghur separatists for sporadic bombings and other violence in the Xinjiang region. But international rights groups have accused Beijing of using the U.S. “war on terror” to crack down on non-violent supporters of Uyghur independence.

Overseas rights groups say untold numbers of people were killed in the Gulja unrest of February 1997, in a crackdown that went largely unnoticed by the outside world.

Official warning

China has accused Uyghur separatists of fomenting unrest in the region, particularly in the run-up to and during the Olympics last year when a wave of violence hit the vast desert region.

The violence prompted a crackdown in which the government says 1,295 people were detained for state security crimes, along with tighter curbs on the practice of Islam.

XUAR Party Chief Wang Lequan was quoted in China’s official media as saying the fight against these forces was a “life or death struggle,” and he has spoken since of the need to “strike hard” against ethnic separatism.

In March this year, XUAR Governor Nur Bekri warned in a speech to the National People’s Congress, China’s annual session of parliament, of a “more fierce struggle” against separatist unrest in the region.

Activists have reported wide-scale detentions, arrests, new curbs on religious practices, travel restrictions, and stepped-up controls over free expression.

Original reporting in Uyghur by Mehriban. Uyghur service director: Dolkun Kamberi. Written for the Web in English by Luisetta Mudie. Edited by Sarah Jackson-Han.

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