Hundreds of Uyghur farmers in the northernmost part of China’s Xinjiang region have been forced to sell their land at low prices for Chinese development schemes, with those refusing to sign compensation contracts beaten and detained by police assigned to enforce the deals, according to sources.
The forced land sale over the last three years in Kunes County’s Toqay village in the Ili Kazakh Autonomous Prefecture has stripped many of property they have owned for generations, leaving them unable to find adequate housing, one farmer told RFA’s Uyghur Service this week.
“We have lost our traditional houses, yards, gardens, and fertile agricultural lands,” said Hashimjan Awut, whose land was taken from him by authorities after he refused to sign it away.
Dispossessed farmers have now been forced to buy apartments in high-rise buildings, but these cost more than the money gained from the coerced sale of their former property, Awut said, adding, “How can we live without land?”
Following an announcement in 2011 that ruling Chinese Communist Party chief for Kunes County Jia Yisheng had launched a plan to construct developments around the County town, village party chief Li Ju began to pressure Toqay’s mostly Uyghur villagers to sell their land, Awut said.
“Li Ju bought poor farmers’ land at the low price of from 5,000 to 16,000 yuan [U.S. $801-$2,564] per mu [about one-sixth of an acre], and later sold it to county authorities for 25,500 yuan [U.S. $4,087] per mu,” he said.
“We have heard that they then sold those parcels of land to Chinese construction companies for 400,000 to 450,000 yuan [U.S. $64,108-$72,122] per mu. They have earned huge profits from the sale of our land,” he said.
Land-grabs by Chinese firms in Xinjiang have heightened ethnic tensions in the region, where the mostly Muslim, Turkic-speaking Uyghurs accuse Han Chinese of displacing them from their traditional homeland and depriving them of economic opportunities under strict rule by Beijing.
Petitioners beaten, detained
Attempts to petition officials for redress at higher levels of authority have consistently failed, with county security chief Xu Weichang sending police to return petitioners to Kunes County by force, Awut said.
“”I and my two brothers were detained together with 16 farmers by the police for 15 days, from April 6 to April 22,” he said.
County police have also beaten villagers to force their sale of land or in retaliation for petitioning, said Awut’s brother Qasimjan Awut, adding that he was attacked last month by Chinese police acting on the orders of county security chief Xu.
“On April 6, I was cutting down trees I had planted by myself on my former land, when Xu Weichang arrived with several policemen and ordered them to seize me as one of the leaders of the petitioners,” he said.
“They twisted my arm behind my back and dragged me all the way to the police station.”
After ordering ethnic Uyghur and Kazakh policemen out of the building and calling in two Han Chinese, “they beat me severely and kicked my head with spiked shoes, fracturing my skull,” Awut said.
As he was being assaulted, Awut said, Xu repeatedly asked him whether he would say he had been beaten by police, to which he answered “Yes.”
“Then they beat me until I couldn’t stand up,” he said.
“Xu lifted me by the collar and asked me again, ‘Did Chinese policemen beat you up?’ Fearing that I would be beaten to death, I answered, ‘No, never!’”
“Xu responded, ‘That is exactly what you will say if anyone asks you,” Awut said. “They then took me to the county detention center, where I was locked up for 15 days.”
Other Toqay villagers were similarly attacked by police during the last year, he said.
“It didn’t matter if they were men, women, children, or seniors,” Awut said. “For example, police beat a woman in her 50s named Rizwangul from my village and broke her arm.”
Land acquisition for development, often resulting in lucrative property deals for local officials, sparks thousands of protests by local communities across China every month, with many of these escalating into clashes with the police.
Reported by Eset Sulaiman for RFA’s Uyghur Service. Translated by Eset Sulaiman. Written in English by Richard Finney.