A Beijing-based charity has issued a handbook to help the Muslim, ethnic minority Uyghurs stand up for their rights under Chinese law, including applying for passports, from which the ruling Chinese Communist Party typically bars them.
The health charity and rights group Aizhixing published the guides earlier this month in a bid to explain the rights of Uyghurs under Chinese and international law, as well as how to overcome common barriers when trying to obtain passports.
The charity first began working with Uyghurs living in Beijing via AIDS prevention and advocacy programs in 2006, and became increasingly concerned about discrimination against Uyghurs in housing, education, medical care, and government services.
Uyghurs currently face a number of obstacles in applying for passports, the group said, citing a bewildering amount of red tape, complicated regulations, and stonewalling from the bureaucrats involved in the process, Aizhixing said in a statement.
Uyghurs frequently report being unable to obtain passports for overseas business trips, study, or visits to relatives outside China, it said.
"One Uyghur netizen complained that the police required him to produce tickets from a travel agency when he applied for a passport to go on holiday with his family, and also levied a fee of 800 yuan per person, along with a "deposit" of 5,000 yuan," Aizhixing said in its guide to the passport issue.
U.S.-based AIDS expert Wan Yanhai, who heads Aizhixing's research department, said the group had issued the guides because it was part of its brief to stand up for the disadvantaged.
"This is a very serious problem," Wan said in a recent interview. "It is basically impossible for the Uyghur people of the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR) to obtain a passport."
"A lot of younger people would like to go overseas to study ... or to attend international conferences," he said. "It is very hard for all of them because the [government] won't give them passports."
He said the government was engaging in blatant discrimination against Uyghurs.
"There is nothing in the law that specifies that passports can be withheld from an entire ethnic group," Wan said. "Most Uyghurs are regular people, who have little to do with politics."
"To behave in this way turns them into enemies of the state."
Unlikely to work
Dilxat Raxit, spokesman for the Munich-based World Uyghur Congress, said the booklets published by Aizhixing were "helpful."
"They will help people to understand and be concerned about the actual situation of Uyghurs," Raxit said. "We welcome them."
But he said the advice they contained was unlikely to work, however.
"If a Uyghur applies for a passport according to the rules set down by the public security ministry and according to due legal process, he will never be given one," Raxit said.
"This is because internal government policy actually bans Uyghurs from leaving China."
Chinese authorities in the troubled northwestern region of Xinjiang tightened travel restrictions on Uyghurs since the regional capital Urumqi was rocked by deadly ethnic rioting in 2009, which left some 200 people dead, according to official figures.
Uyghurs took to the streets en masse in July 2009 in an initially peaceful demonstration to protest a violent attack weeks earlier against Uyghur migrant workers in far-off Guangdong province, which officials allegedly failed to quell promptly.
Xinjiang is home to mostly Muslim ethnic Uyghurs, Kazakhs, and Tartars, among other recognized ethnic groups.
Uyghurs, who number more than 16 million, constitute a distinct, Turkic-speaking, Muslim minority in northwestern China and Central Asia.
They declared a short-lived East Turkestan Republic in Xinjiang in the late 1930s and 40s but have remained under Beijing's control since 1949, with many calling for independence.
Reported by Xi Wang for RFA's Mandarin service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.