Authorities in China’s northwestern Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR) are razing Uyghur homes and orchards to make way for new apartment complexes, residents say.
Members of the Uyghur ethnic minority in Hanbing town, near Gulja city (in Chinese, Yining) in Ili prefecture said they were forcibly evicted after their properties were demolished in August and September. They were also not compensated by the government.
A Uyghur woman from Hanbing who gave her name as Senawar said that when her home was included in a planned development zone, she approached authorities with a request for compensation.
“The authorities didn’t agree to our terms for compensation, so they forcibly destroyed our home,” she said.
Senawar, who had lived with two siblings in the seven-room home on 1 mu (0.16 acres) of land since the death of her parents, said the Gulja city Municipal Land Management Department’s offer was too low.
“We have three siblings living together. Our parents are deceased. We only asked for 200,000 yuan (U.S. $29,900),” Senawar said.
“The government agreed to pay 150,000 yuan (U.S. $22,400). But that much money wouldn’t be enough for the three of us to buy a house,” she said.
Senawar said that her seven-room home had included two rooms with concrete foundations decorated with ceramic tile, as well as a porch and other improvements.
“[Even] for 200,000 yuan you cannot buy a house like what we owned,” she said.
Reselling at a profit
Senawar said as many as 1,000 homes in the area had also been demolished by authorities.
“Private Chinese companies from inner China are constructing apartment buildings on the land and are selling them,” she said.
Senawar said the developers are becoming rich because they resell at a profit the land that the previous residents are being forced to sell for cheap.
If residents refuse to sell, the government will threaten them with detention or destroy their homes, Senawar added.
“A lot of peasants who didn’t agree with the government were threatened with handcuffs, and when they saw that, they agreed to sign the papers [to sell],” she said.
Senawar said that following the demolition of her home, the local court ordered that she and her siblings be compensated for even less than the amount they had originally been offered.
“The court ordered that the government must give us 98,000 yuan (U.S. $14,600). We said we wouldn’t take it and didn’t go [to get the money],” she said.
Senawar said a four fen (0.4 mu) home in Gulja sells for around 200,000 yuan, adding that she and her siblings had been offered less than half that amount for a home more than twice as large.
“That’s why we are unhappy … I hope [the government] will solve this in a fair way.”
Beaten for resisting
A woman who gave her name as Miriam, also a resident of Hanbing town, said she was attacked when she tried to protest the forced demolition of her home.
“I didn’t agree with them and I didn’t sign the papers. But government personnel took the [Chinese] flag I was holding, hit me with a rifle butt, and kicked me,” Miriam said.
“I resisted and held onto the tree in front of my house, but they dragged me away,” she said.
Miriam said she that as she held onto the tree, five or six people began to beat her.
“They twisted my arm and said, ‘What right do you have to hold the Chinese flag?’ They are the government—how can they do this to me?” she asked.
Miriam said that she had been laid off in 2002 from the textile factory she had worked in since 1981.
The single mother said she had used her entire savings to purchase the home, which sits on 1 mu of land amidst a 600-tree orchard.
“I bought the house for 50,000 yuan (U.S. $7,500) and I asked them to at least pay me the money I had used to buy the house,” she said.
“Instead, they took a bulldozer to it. I asked myself, ‘Where is the socialism that the Chinese government promises us?’”
Miriam said that she was guaranteed to make at least 10,000 yuan (U.S. $1,500) each year by selling the apples, apricots, cherries, and dates grown on her property.
“They only promised 33,000 yuan (U.S. $5,000). I asked, ‘Why 33,000 yuan?’ I bought this house for 50,000 yuan. I have the deed. I also went to the court and I have the legal documents to prove it.”
‘Laughter at my misfortune’
Miriam said that her home had also been included in the development zone for new apartment buildings currently under construction by private Han Chinese companies.
“I tried to block them by jumping in front of the bulldozers. They pushed me into the dirt. The [Han] Chinese were watching and they just burst into laughter at my misfortune,” Miriam said.
“One of my neighbors came to my rescue and told them that I had been laid off. But they took her ID away, kicked her, and told her to leave,” she said.
“I asked them to at least listen to my pleas and to compensate me well. I am a single woman. They just snatched the flag out of my hands and laughed at me for holding a Chinese flag.”
Miriam said that she had gone to speak with higher authorities, but no one would agree to hear her grievances.
Uyghurs in nearby villages are being subjected to the same treatment, she said.
“If you go to No. 4 Village, you can see the same thing there. It’s worse. Many people are living out of tents. If they try to protest, they will be detained.”
“[The authorities] are doing this in a very secretive way. If you talk over the phone at the site, they will take your phone away. If you take pictures, they will take your camera away.”
A Gulja Land Management Department staff member who gave his name as Shirip said he could not provide information about the demolitions.
“Whether [the government] buys land or destroys a home, that is according to the country’s laws,” Shirip said.
“This is about the development of the city. When it comes to development, of course the old houses are going to be demolished,” he said.
“If there are any households in the way, they will be compensated. If you give up land because of this, you will be given land in return. No one is left out of this agreement.”
Shirip said he was unaware of any residents being given inadequate compensation for their homes.
“The price was set by the government. I am just a person who works for the government,” he said.
“Even the people who received low compensation were moved into new homes. We didn’t see anybody who was left out and went somewhere to complain.”
Uyghurs fear that neighborhoods in cities in their homeland are being destroyed in order to make way for Han Chinese who have migrated to the region.
Uyghurs say they have long suffered ethnic discrimination, oppressive religious controls, and continued poverty and joblessness despite China's ambitious plans to develop its vast northwestern frontier.
Xinjiang is a strategically crucial vast desert territory that borders Russia, Mongolia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and India.
The region has abundant oil reserves and is China's largest natural gas-producing region.
Original reporting by Gulshan Abdukadir for RFA's Uyghur service. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.