Chinese authorities in the northwestern Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR) have detained 15 individuals accused of spreading “extremist and illegal” content online following tips handed in by informers, Chinese state media said on Thursday.
Suspects taken into custody include both ethnic Uyghur and Han Chinese, the Global Times newspaper said in a May 10 report, citing an article published on the WeChat account of Xinjiang’s Internet Illegal Information Reporting Center, with arrests said only to have been made “recently.”
The 15, including six Uyghurs, seven Han Chinese, and two of unidentified ethnicity, were detained in 11 separate cases, a government website said.
One of those detained, a 46-year-old Uyghur resident of Karamay city identified only by the initial A, was picked up after storing content described as “terrorist”-related on audio files, while an ethnic Han Chinese surnamed Chen was detained for carrying similar content on his cell phone, the Times said in its report.
A third suspect, also a Han, was “punished” for spreading rumors in April that a riot was under way in Xinjiang’s Hotan City and that the city was in “a state of siege,” the paper said, adding that other internet users had alerted police to the postings, prompting investigations that had led to the arrests.
Cell phone content and postings on social media are now frequently checked in Xinjiang, with Uyghurs forced to install surveillance applications on their mobile devices to track their online activity, sources say.
'The main target'
Speaking to RFA’s Uyghur Service, Omer Kanat—director of the Washington, D.C.-based Uyghur Human Rights Project—noted that the Global Times points to the arrests of both Uyghurs and Han Chinese, calling the Times’ report “interesting.”
“It is possible that the Chinese authorities wish to appear as though they are not singling out Uyghurs for punishment for “terrorism” offenses, but in reality Uyghurs are the main target for counter-terrorism legislation,” Kanat said.
It is disturbing that citizens are now being encouraged to monitor and inform on each other to the police, Kanat said, adding, “It is easy to imagine an unscrupulous person inventing a crime committed by another in order to get a reward.”
Though China says it seeks political and social stability in the volatile Xinjiang region, “the effect of such a strategy by the government will be to further distance people from one another in the region,” Munich-based World Uyghur Congress president Dolkun Isa said.
“This will only stoke suspicion and distrust in the process,” Isa said.
Following his appointment to his post in August 2016, Xinjiang party chief Chen Quanguo has initiated unprecedented repressive measures against the Uyghur people and ideological purges against so-called “two-faced” Uyghur officials—a term applied by the government to Uyghurs who do not willingly follow directives and exhibit signs of “disloyalty.”
China regularly conducts “strike hard” campaigns in Xinjiang, including police raids on Uyghur households, restrictions on Islamic practices, and curbs on the culture and language of the Uyghur people, including videos and other material.
While China blames some Uyghurs for "terrorist" attacks, experts outside China say Beijing has exaggerated the threat from the Uyghurs and that repressive domestic policies are responsible for an upsurge in violence there that has left hundreds dead since 2009.
Reported and translated by Alim Seytoff for RFA's Uyghur Service. Written in English by Richard Finney.