WASHINGTON—Authorities in the northwestern Chinese region of Xinjiang have launched a house-to-house search campaign in a Uyghur city known as a traditional center of opposition to Beijing’s rule.
"The campaign started a few weeks ago,” an officer at a police station near Gulja city [in Chinese, Yining] said. “In the past two weeks we’ve searched only once. It isn’t scheduled, but the searching occurs at random times. Sometimes the searches take awhile," he said.
He denied that the campaign was aimed specifically at the Muslim ethnic minority Uyghur people, among whom opposition to China’s rule is widespread.
“The campaign isn’t targeted at specific people,” he said. “It is targeted only at specific areas,” said the officer, who is based in the village of Toghrak [in Chinese, Tuogelake], near Gulja city.
I can’t provide information on this campaign to the outside world. The local media haven’t reported this campaign yet. So I can’t reveal any more information."
He said the aim of the campaign was to discover people who have been engaged in illegal activities and to crack down on people without household registration papers or a national identity card, or those with no clear account of themselves.
He declined to give details of how many people had been detained in the raids, and on what charges.
'No legal process'
“I can’t provide information on this campaign to the outside world. The local media haven’t reported this campaign yet. So I can’t reveal any more information,” he said.
The Germany-based exile group, the World Uyghur Congress, said a total of 279 households were raided in and around Gulja, affecting a total of 1,253 local residents.
"Recently the Chinese Public Security Bureau have been bursting in on the homes of more than 1,000 Uyghur people without any prior warning or any legal process and searching them," spokesman Dilxat Raxit said.
"At the same time, anyone who refuses to have their homes searched gets beaten up by the police. More than 30 people have been detained so far."
He said Uyghurs whose homes had been raided had reported that their copies of the Quran had been confiscated by police.
"Once they get inside the Uyghur people's homes, they are confiscating their copies of the Quran," he said. "This campaign is being expanded at the moment to county towns. On the eve of the Olympic Games, Uyghur people can't even feel safe inside their own homes when they have shut the door."
An officer who answered the phone at the Uchderwaza police station in a predominantly Uyghur neighborhood of downtown Gulja confirmed a large-scale "clean-up" operation was under way in the area.
"Yes," the officer said. "It's not just in Gulja. It's the same across the country...The main targets are transient sectors of the population."
Asked if the homes of Uyghurs had been searched, he said the operation wasn't targeted at any ethnic group, but instead at China's huge floating population of temporary migrant workers.
"Here in Gulja, we need to gather more intelligence about temporary residents," he said, adding that people would normally be detained only if they "resisted" the police operation.
"There are many who we just penalize on the spot, but some have been taken in under administrative detention too. Typically those are the people who try to hinder our attempts to carry out our job," the officer said.
Dilxat Raxit said all the Uyghurs in the Gulja area were permanent residents with their papers in order, and that there weren't any people among them with none of the three officially recognized forms of identification.
"Uyghur people keep themselves to themselves and don't travel much. Of course they are denying it. The reason is simple...China is hijacking the Olympics as an excuse to launch another fear campaign among Uyghurs and it is trying to avoid the concern of the international community about the Uyghurs," he said.
Local media reported recently that Communist Party leaders of the Ili autonomous district held a meeting on public security recently, ordering a crackdown on anyone without one of the three widely accepted forms of identification specified by the Toghrak police officer.
Xinjiang Peace News, a government-sponsored Web site, reported on a recent social stability campaign in Mongolkure [in Chinese, Zhaosu] county, also in Ili.
Security measures were to include stopping petitioners from going public with their complaints, forbidding public meetings, and stepping up intelligence gathering with the cultivation of more informants in local communities, the report said.
Closer attention was to be paid to “religious people, strangers without backgrounds, and former prisoners,” while a close eye was to be kept on local mosques, whose imams were to be “re-educated,” it added. County law enforcement officials had also called for more trials and more arrests.
A police officer who answered the phone at the Mongolkure public security bureau didn’t deny the existence of the campaign but declined to provide details.
“The reason is very simple. It’s because this is a matter of national security,” he said. “I can’t tell you anything.”
U.S.-based Uyghur activists also called for international intervention to stop the campaign, which they said targets their ethnic minority.
American Uyghur Association general secretary Alim Seytoff said prominent Uyghur businesswoman and dissident in exile Rebiya Kadeer had called on the U.S. Congress to intervene.
“Rebiya Kadeer hopes the United States will send a delegation to the Uyghur region to stop this campaign,” he said.
Many Uyghurs, who twice enjoyed short-lived independence as the state of East Turkestan during the 1930s and 40s, are bitterly opposed to Beijing’s rule in Xinjiang. Beijing blames Uyghur separatists for sporadic bombings and other violence in the Xinjiang region. But diplomats and foreign experts are skeptical. International rights groups have accused Beijing of using the U.S. “war on terror” to crack down on non-violent supporters of Uyghur independence.
Overseas rights groups say untold numbers of people were killed in the Gulja unrest of February 1997, in a crackdown that went largely unnoticed by the outside world.
Original reporting in Uyghur by Jilil and Shohret Hoshur, and in Mandarin by Yan Xiu. Uyghur service director: Dolkun Kamberi. Mandarin service director: Jennifer Chou. Translated and written for the Web in English by Luisetta Mudie and Omer Kanat. Edited by Sarah Jackson-Han.