Local authorities in China’s troubled Xinjiang region prefer to spend tens of thousands of dollars on dragging home Uyghurs who travel to Beijing to highlight their problems instead of using the money to help alleviate their plight, an RFA investigation revealed.
In a recent example, authorities in Aksu in southwestern Xinjiang, paid Beijing police 67,000 yuan (U.S. $11,000) to bring back two Uyghur petitioners, Buhelchem Rusul, 41, and Emet Qasim, 65, who had gone to the Chinese capital up to six times to complain about unfair treatment by local officials.
Both ethnic minority Uyghurs from Igerchi (in Chinese, Yiganchi) township in Aksu city were detained but Rusul was released last week with a warning never to go to Beijing again while Qasim continues to languish at a local detention center.
“I have been released on the condition that I not go to Beijing again,” Rusul said in an interview.
“I did not agree to the conditions and refused to sign the paper. I also mentioned that I won’t stop until my case is resolved,” said Rusul, who had traveled to Beijing six times in the past five years to petition against unfair treatment by local authorities who prevented her from running her dressmaking school.
Rusul said that the Aksu city government paid what she felt was a big sum to Beijing police to have her and Qasim return home.
“The police chief warned me by saying, ‘Don’t forget we paid 67,000 yuan to the Beijing police and this money is from the pockets of the people of Igerchi,’” she said.
Local officials in Aksu contacted by RFA confirmed that they paid Beijing police that amount but added that the cost would have doubled if they used their own local security officers to go to Beijing and escort the duo home.
“This time we hired Beijing police to reduce the expense of their return. We just paid them 67,000 yuan as a gift, plus their travel expenses. If we had sent [our] police to Beijing it would have cost at least 200,000 yuan (U.S. $32,000),” Omer Awut, director of the Aksu Prefectural Petitioners Department, told RFA.
He confirmed Rusul and Qasim were detained in the Igerchi township detention center before Rusul was released under certain conditions.
“I estimate they have spent at least 1 million yuan (U.S. $160,000) on those travel expenses, because each time five to eight people [security officers from Aksu] come to Beijing, sometimes by air, and they stay in a five-star hotel in Beijing for two or three weeks.”
“But they don’t want to spend money to resolve my case,” she said.
Rusul said that a decade ago, she had established a dressmaking school that was applauded by Uyghurs in Aksu as a means of easing an unemployment problem.
Local officials initially encouraged her to expand the school’s branches and authorized a loan to construct a new building for the institution, she said.
But as she began plans for constructing the building, the bank director, who was Han Chinese, refused to approve her loan.
Many of Xinjiang’s estimated eight million ethnic minority Uyghurs complain that Beijing’s development policies favor Han Chinese migrants to the region over Uyghurs, aside from grappling with strict controls on their religion and culture.
“His reasons for denying the loan were, first, he expected a bribe from me, and second, he did not want to see a successful Uyghur woman in the city,” Rusul charged.
But with loans from Uyghur merchants in Aksu, Rusul completed the school in 2005.
However, the next year, authorities ordered the building demolished, as part of a new city plan. Rusul received no compensation.
“The authorities demolished my school – which consisted of 13 classrooms, two practice rooms, and a three-bedroom apartment – without paying compensation. My investment was over 500,000 yuan at the time,” she said.
Emet Qasim, 65, was sent back to Aksu with Rusul after he went to Beijing to petition against local officials who had confiscated his wheat.
In 2000, local officials seized his truck and three tons of his wheat, alleging that he had sold it on the black market instead of to state-owned or government-linked companies as required by law.
Regulations in Xinjiang require some farmers to sell their produce to the local government for below-market prices – a policy seven Uyghur farmers from Guma county petitioned against in Beijing in a similar case last year.
Qasim took his case to a local court. After six years, at the seventh trial, the court ruled that “officials had abused their authority,” but did not order any compensation for Qasim or punishment for the officials.
In the courtroom, Qasim said, “If we do something wrong, you order us executed or jail us, but there is no punishment for Han Chinese if they break the law?”
He was detained for 60 days for attempting to "harm ethnic unity” because of his outburst.
Thousands of petitioners from all over China go to Beijing each year to seek redress for complaints against their local governments.
The current system was set up five decades ago to serve as a bridge between the ruling Communist Party and the people.
China says it receives between three to four million complaints in the form of "letters and visits" annually.
Authorities frequently hold petitioners in "black jails," which stand outside the criminal justice system, and are escorted back to their hometowns by local governments, which run representative offices in the capital for the purpose.
Rusul said that while she was held in the Aksu city detention center after an earlier petitioning attempt last year, she met hundreds of Uyghurs who had been charged with “illegal petitioning.” Many of them were victims of the city’s development plan and had lost their homes without receiving compensation, she said.
“Some of their stories were more tragic than mine. In some places, the police demolished homes, arrested the homeowners, and took the titles to the homes to prevent the owners from going to sue,” she said.
Reported by Shohret Hoshur for RFA’s Uyghur service. Translated by Shohret Hoshur. Written in English by Rachel Vandenbrink.