Family members of ethnic Uyghur security personnel in northwest China’s Xinjiang region, who authorities had previously considered “off limits,” are among those now being detained as part of “stability” measures the officers have been tasked with enforcing, according to sources.
Since April, thousands of Uyghurs accused of harboring “extremist” and “politically incorrect” views have been detained in political re-education camps and prisons throughout Xinjiang, where members of the ethnic group complain of pervasive discrimination, religious repression, and cultural suppression under Chinese rule.
While authorities have generally avoided harassing the families of Uyghur security personnel and public servants during past crackdowns in Xinjiang, new reports suggest that even Uyghurs who serve the state risk arrest amid a string of harsh policies attacking the legitimate rights and freedoms of Uyghurs enacted since Communist Party secretary Chen Quanguo was appointed to run the region in August last year.
Sources in Kashgar (in Chinese, Kashi) prefecture’s Yengisar (Yingjisha) county recently told RFA’s Uyghur Service that Uyghur police officers and their family members are now being targeted as part of the very “stability” measures the officers are responsible for upholding.
In September, a Chinese court in Kashgar city jailed Horigul Nasir, 21, for 10 years over claims by a friend that she had promoted the wearing of headscarves, a form of Islamic dress increasingly restricted by Chinese authorities, her brother Yusupjan Nasir told RFA at the time.
Since his sister’s sentencing, Yusupjan Nasir has been removed from his position as an assistant officer at Yengisar county’s Saghan township police station, officers from various village branches confirmed to RFA recently.
Local sources, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said he had been demoted to the position of security guard at the township’s Family Planning Department.
An officer from Saghan township’s No. 3 village police station told RFA that nearly half of the nine regular duty officers working there have family members who were detained.
“There are four police officers whose relatives are in detention, including one whose siblings are being held … Sadirjan Ahet,” said the officer, who also asked to remain unnamed.
An officer at the Saghan township police station told RFA that at least one other policeman from the township, who had been promoted and served for the last five years as an assistant officer patrolling China’s border, was fired after his relatives were arrested for “extremism.”
“Tursunjan Emet, a border police officer, was removed from his post—his father and two of his elder brothers were arrested,” the officer said.
“Those whose family members have been convicted and sent to prison are removed from their jobs.”
Kashgar prefecture is located along China’s borders with Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Afghanistan, and Pakistan, but it was unclear where Emet had been posted on patrol.
The officer could not confirm whether Emet’s colleagues had arrested his father and brother, saying only that “those police responsible for their area would have gone and detained them.”
A security guard named Borhan recently told RFA that his eldest brother, Abduwasip Omer, had been jailed in Saghan township for “helping a woman to purchase a mobile phone” that was later used for an unspecified “illegal purpose.”
“Later, I learned he received a prison sentence, but because I have been working 24-hour shifts, I’ve been unable to speak to my family regarding his case,” said Borhan, who is from nearby Topuluq township.
“I hoped that I could find out more … but I was unable to return home.”
Borhan said that his brother “and several others” in Saghan had been given 10-year prison sentences by local authorities without trials, and sent for re-education before local cadres went to their homes and informed their families.
Most of the verdicts had been filled out by officials in charge of the township Political Law Committee and distributed by district secretaries to families, he added.
According to Borhan, his brother’s prison term came just two years after he was released from another 10-year term. His sister had been arrested for asking about Omer’s whereabouts and held in a re-education camp ever since, he added.
‘Strike hard’ campaigns
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 Shohret Hoshur for RFA’s Uyghur Service. Translated by RFA’s Uyghur Service. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.