Rushing to tighten security following a deadly knife attack in February, officials in Xinjiang’s Hotan prefecture have launched a drive to recruit additional auxiliary police officers, meanwhile working those already employed around the clock, sources in the region say.
The Feb. 15 attack by three Uyghurs in a residential area of Guma (in Chinese, Pishan) county in Hotan (Hetian) left five passersby dead and another five injured, with the attackers themselves shot dead by police, according to state media reports.
The attack appears to have been motivated by anger at threats by local officials to punish the attackers for praying with their family, an activity outlawed by authorities in an effort to restrict Muslim religious practice in northwest China’s Xinjiang region, sources told RFA’s Uyghur Service.
On Feb. 16, authorities in nearby Keriye (Yutian) county announced a move to add 254 additional auxiliary members to its police force, with 204 jobs reserved for ethnic Uyghurs and 50 spaces held for Han Chinese, local media reports said.
Speaking to RFA, a police officer in Keriye’s Kokyar township confirmed the recruitment drive was under way.
“More than 200 [auxiliary] policemen will be recruited soon to patrol the roads, streets, and neighborhoods day and night,” RFA’s source said.
“They will also be stationed at various checkpoints to check people coming into the township and other townships in the county.”
New recruits must be between 18 and 30 years of age and come from families with no “political problems,” the source said, adding, “The political requirements for the job are very strict.”
Divided into two groups and required to work for 48 hours straight, recruits will be allowed only a one-hour break in which to eat their lunch, he said.
Each officer will also closely monitor the behavior of five persons already picked out for police attention, the source said.
“The atmosphere has become very tense now following the Guma attack, and since social stability is our main priority, we are remaining very vigilant,” he said.
“We are not sure when all this is going to end."
Police booths made from steel and set up in Keriye county’s Siyek township now guard the main entrance to the town and a highway leading to other areas in the county, sources in Siyek said.
“It has been four months since I began working in the booth,” one auxiliary policeman in Siyek told RFA.
“We check passersby, and at night we inspect the homes of suspect people or houses that have their lights on. Besides that, we look at cars and motorcycles that have been parked along the road.”
Dressed in SWAT team uniforms, auxiliary officers go unarmed, though some carry batons and spears, he added.
“We now work for 48 hours continuously without a break, and when we reach the point where we can’t continue due to exhaustion, we take turns sleeping for about two to three hours.”
“We used to have a Uyghur supervisor who was good to us, and when we had emergencies, he would give us permission to leave. But now we have a [Han] Chinese supervisor, and we can’t talk to him.”
“The situation has gotten so intense,” he said.
China has vowed to crack down on what it calls religious extremism in Xinjiang, and regularly conducts “strike hard” campaigns 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 Uyghur extremists 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 by Eset Sulaiman for RFA’s Uyghur Service. Translated by Mamatjan Juma. Written in English by Richard Finney.