Authorities in northwestern China’s Xinjiang region are offering hefty sums of cash to would-be tipsters on terrorist activities, according to an official announcement issued in the aftermath of a deadly attack carried out by a group of Muslim ethnic Uyghurs last month.
In a Feb. 23 statement recently obtained by RFA’s Uyghur Service, the Hotan (in Chinese, Hetian) prefecture government said 100 million yuan (U.S. $14.5 million) had been set aside to reward residents reporting “suspicious” acts following the knife attack a week earlier in Guma (Pishan) county.
“Our region will create an anti-terror defense front composing every ten families as a unit, and an anti-terror reward fund in order to encourage the masses to actively provide tips related to terrorism,” the announcement reads.
“Tip providers will receive anywhere from 150 yuan (U.S. $22) to 500,000 yuan (U.S. $72,426), depending upon the importance and usefulness of the tip on suspicious terrorist activity or suspicious individuals.”
The announcement said authorities would guarantee the anonymity of informants and secretly transfer funds to their bank accounts, if requested.
Anyone exposing high-ranking members of the community involved in suspicious activity will be handsomely rewarded for their information.
“Tip providers who report on ‘double-faced’ cadres, party members or ‘double-faced’ religious clergy will receive 200,000-500,000 yuan (U.S. $28,970-72,426),” the announcement said.
The focus on rooting out top-level “terrorists” echoed points in a speech on maintaining stability by Xinjiang Party Secretary Chen Quanguo earlier this year, calling for the “severe punishment” of “double-faced” cadres and religious clergy in the region.
A second announcement, issued Feb. 28 by the Chira (Cele) county government, offered similar rewards to local residents for reporting on their neighbors.
“Tip providers who report on the suspicious activities of individuals returning from overseas travel will receive 10,000 yuan (U.S. $1,449),” the Chira announcement said.
“Tip providers who report on individuals who refuse to greet, shake hands, socialize, let their children marry the children of, or attend the funerals of government cadres and patriotic religious clergy will receive 3,000 yuan (U.S. $435).”
Those who report individuals for having “stitched the ‘star and crescent moon’ insignia on their clothing or personal items” or the words “East Turkestan”—referring to the name of a short-lived Uyghur republic—on their mobile phone case, purse or other jewelry, are also eligible to receive 3,000 yuan.
Offering rewards to informants is the latest move in a bid by authorities to increase security in Hotan, where a Feb. 15 attack by three Uyghurs in a residential area of Guma county left five passersby dead and another five injured, with the attackers themselves shot dead by police, according to state media.
The attack appears to have been motivated by anger at threats by local officials to punish the attackers for praying with their family, an activity outlawed by authorities in an effort to restrict Muslim religious practice in Xinjiang, sources told RFA.
On Feb. 16, authorities in nearby Keriye (Yutian) county announced a move to add 254 additional auxiliary members to its police force, with 204 jobs reserved for ethnic Uyghurs and 50 spaces held for Han Chinese, local media reports said last week.
RFA was able to confirm that rewards were being offered to informants in at least two other counties in Hotan—Keriye and Lop (Luopu) counties—after speaking with police officers in local townships.
A police officer who answered the phone in Lop county’s Sampula township told RFA that “phone calls from tip providers go straight to our chiefs,” but said that as part of the station’s auxiliary patrol, “I don’t have specific information about this issue.”
An officer in Keriya county’s Qarqiy township said he was unable to provide details about rewards to informants without the permission of his chief and the local political commissioner because the information was “confidential.”
But officers from two other townships in Keriya—Siyek and Kokyar townships—confirmed that several tipsters had made contact with local authorities in the weeks since the Hotan government issued its announcement.
“Tip providers or situation reporters directly meet with township party secretary or township security personnel,” said an officer from the Siyek station.
“I am usually on a 48-hour watch duty at the police tower. Almost nobody comes to provide tips or report things there—at least, I haven’t seen anyone doing it.”
A police officer in Kokyar township told RFA that “tip providers from the township and villages [are] coming in to report suspicious things or individuals,” adding that some had called the police station directly.
“There were tip providers from the Hotan region who received a monetary reward,” said the officer, who did not provide his name.
“In our area, the situation is quite normal because we adopted tough measures earlier and cracked down hard on suspicious individuals or activities. We do get some tips from time to time but really not on a large scale.”
The officer said that it was normal for neighbors to “spy on one another” and “watch one another’s activities in the township and area villages.
“Every ten families are organized as a group to watch one another,” he said.
“Suspicious things are usually reported to the township cadres, but not many people come to our police tower to provide tips.”
Suspicion and fear
Ilshat Hassan Kokbore, president of the Uyghur American Association (UAA) exile group, compared Hotan’s reward system to tactics used in Nazi Germany, under Stalin in the Soviet Union and in Mao Zedong’s China during the Cultural Revolution, and said it was likely to backfire in Xinjiang.
“For the Chinese government—especially in the Hotan region—to throw some crumbs to the Uyghur people and encourage them to spy on their own is nothing short of pushing those living under its authoritarian rule into a moral crisis that will result in tragedies of conscience,” Kokbore said.
“While such heavy-handed Chinese policy may produce some limited results, it will sow deep suspicion among the people. It is clear—such a society without trust, and living under suspicion and fear, will eventually shake the foundations of China’s communist rule.”
China has vowed to crack down on what it calls religious extremism in Xinjiang, and regularly conducts “strike hard” campaigns including police raids on Uyghur households, restrictions on Islamic practices, and curbs on the culture and language of the Uyghur people, including videos and other material.
While China blames Uyghur extremists for terrorist attacks, experts outside China say Beijing has exaggerated the threat from the Uyghurs and that repressive domestic policies are responsible for an upsurge in violence there that has left hundreds dead since 2009.
Reported by Eset Sulaiman for RFA’s Uyghur Service. Translated by Alim Seytoff. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.