Ethnic Uyghur farmers in a southwestern county of China’s Xinjiang region are struggling to earn a living amid restrictions imposed by Chinese authorities following deadly riots last year in which at least 100 were killed, Uyghur sources said.
Many have been unable to farm their land because of the mass jailings of work-age men following the clashes in Yarkand, and have been blocked by authorities from leaving their homes to seek work elsewhere, a security officer based in Hangdi town told RFA’s Uyghur Service.
“My job is to help the farmers, and many of them come to us with tears in their eyes, begging us to help them,” the officer said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
“A family may have five people, including three children,” he said.
“And if those three children were male, they will have been taken by the authorities, and this means the family will have no viable labor force to help with the farming.”
“So this kind of family will have a lot of difficulties, since the elderly can’t do physical labor,” he said.
The July 28, 2014 riots in Xinjiang’s Yarkand (in Chinese, Shache) county marked one of the worst clashes in Xinjiang since bloody riots in the regional capital Urumqi in 2009 between Uyghurs and majority Han Chinese that left almost 200 dead by official count.
While the government said that 96 people were killed in Yarkand, exiled Uyghur leader Rebiya Kadeer said the death toll may have gone much higher, and accused the authorities of covering up a “massacre” of mostly Uyghur civilians.
“Right now there are checkpoints everywhere and on all roads,” RFA’ source said, adding that Uyghur families looking for outside work to help make ends meet “are not allowed to travel outside their villages.”
Armed soldiers are now stationed in Elishku town, the scene of some of last year’s worst fighting, the officer said.
“But in general, the soldiers will not go out on patrol or conduct security checks,” he said.
“That work is done by [neighborhood] security forces, the police, and special armed police. Our personnel will go to Elishku to conduct checks, and their personnel will come to conduct checks in our town.”
Forbidden to travel
Speaking separately, a farmer in Elishku confirmed that local residents have been forbidden to travel outside their area to look for work.
“We are not allowed to travel outside the town to work and make money,” he said, adding, “If we apply for permits, they are not issued to us.”
“They think we might create problems if we go outside of town,” he said.
Though ruling Chinese Communist Party Secretary for Xinjiang Zhang Chunxian visited the county towns of Elishku, Issikkol, and Tagharchi on Aug. 6 and 7 to speak with local officials, religious leaders, and farmers’ representatives, many local residents were not allowed to go near him, another Elishku farmer said.
“We were not allowed to see him,” the farmer said.
“Yes, he did go to the towns where the incidents took place, but we farmers were not allowed to speak our minds.”
Xinjiang, which is home to millions of Turkic-speaking Uyghurs, has seen an upsurge in violence that has left hundreds dead since 2012, and which China has blamed on terrorists and Islamic insurgents seeking to establish an independent state.
But rights groups accuse Chinese authorities of heavy-handed rule in Xinjiang, including violent police raids on Uyghur households, restrictions on Islamic practices, and curbs on the culture and language of the Uyghur people.
Reported by Jilil Kashgari for RFA’s Uyghur Service. Translated by Mamatjan Juma. Written in English by Richard Finney.