Authorities in northwest China’s Xinjiang region have detained nearly 10 percent of the population of a township in ethnic Uyghur-dominated Kashgar (in Chinese, Kashi) prefecture, according to sources, following an incident three years ago.
A former resident of Kashgar Kona Sheher (Shufu) county’s Bullaqsu township recently told RFA’s Uyghur Service in a letter that “a large number of people” have been arrested in the county this year, leaving some townships with “hardly any males to be seen.”
Bullaqsu was one of the townships most affected by the arrests in Kashgar Kona Sheher, where “groups of people have been arrested and sent to detention centers every week,” said the former resident, who now lives in exile and asked to remain unnamed.
In mid-September 2014, a number of police officers attempted to remove the headscarves of two Uyghur women at the Wednesday Market held in the county seat, prompting two Uyghur men to come to their defense, the source said.
The two men were arrested by police, but around 200 people surrounded the officers and prevented them from bringing them to the local station, he said.
All of those involved were “punished” later that year, according to the former resident, who added that the incident was never reported in either state or foreign media. Chinese state media are heavily censored and foreign reporters have limited access to Xinjiang.
Since Xinjiang Communist Party chief Chen Quanguo was appointed to his post in August last year, a series of harsh policies have been initiated targeting Uyghurs in the region, where members of the mostly Muslim ethnic group complain of religious and cultural repression and harassment under Chinese rule.
The source suggested that authorities in Kashgar Kona Sheher have targeted residents in response to the market incident as part of an ongoing crackdown that has seen thousands of Uyghurs accused of harboring “extremist” and “politically incorrect” views detained in political re-education camps and prisons throughout Xinjiang since April.
The county Criminal Investigation Department was unable to confirm whether any residents had been detained in connection with the incident or the number of people currently in detention when contacted by RFA.
But an official with the Bullaqsu Office of the Judiciary said there are currently more than 3,300 of the township’s 36,000 residents detained in either prison or re-education camps.
“According to the information I have, 2,514 [people are imprisoned] … but that information is a bit old and I do not have the latest statistics,” he said.
It had been around a month since the latest figures were released, he said, but 57 people had been imprisoned since then. Of those sentenced to jail, the longest term was 20 years, he added.
“The most imprisoned are from [Bullaqsu’s] No. 1, 2, 7, and 14 Villages,” the official said.
Additionally, he said, 806 people from the township are currently held in re-education camps.
Officials in Hotan (Hetian) prefecture’s Qaraqash (Moyu) county recently told RFA that they had been ordered to send 40 percent of area residents to re-education camps, and said they were having trouble meeting the quota.
Reports suggest similar orders have been given in other areas of the region, and that authorities are detaining as many Uyghurs as possible in re-education camps and jail, regardless of their age, prior service to the Communist Party, or the severity of the accusations against them.
The ongoing crackdown has also seen students who traveled to Egypt for Islamic studies being rounded up by Egyptian authorities at China's behest, with some taken back to China and most held incommunicado. The incarceration of large numbers of Uyghur males has put pressure on women and children to take over farm chores in Xinjiang.
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 and that repressive policies in Xinjiang are responsible for an upsurge in violence there that has left hundreds dead since 2009.
Reported by Shohret Hoshur for RFA's Uyghur Service. Translated by RFA's Uyghur Service. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.