HONG KONG—Chinese authorities in the troubled northwestern region of Xinjiang are maintaining a city-wide security clampdown around the anniversary of deadly riots between Han Chinese and ethnic Uyghurs, residents and officials say.
Authorities have covered the city with a “security blanket” of 40,000 surveillance cameras in buses, supermarkets, department stores, and thousands of other public facilities, official media reported.
“The cameras are part of a security reinforcement ahead of the anniversary of the riot of July 5 last year, which left 197 people dead and more than 1,700 injured,” the Xinhua news agency reported.
A religious affairs official who answered the phone at the Tianshan district government Mosque Management Committee said the cameras had been installed at the Tengritagh Mosque earlier in the year.
“Yes, [the mosques now have security cameras]. There are two. They were installed in the spring,” the official said.
He said there had been an additional police presence outside mosques in recent days, and that anyone from outside the district wishing to pray at the mosque would have to register with the authorities.
“[Outsiders can come to the mosques] if they register, with their identity cards or their papers from an organization,” he added.
A Han Chinese resident of Saybagh district surnamed Li said there are large numbers of police on guard outside the district’s mosque.
“There is a hugely increased police presence there,” Li said.
“Probably police and some people from the district administration.”
“They are wearing uniforms. Things have been a bit more tense these past few days,” he said.
Another Han Chinese resident surnamed Zhang said the city had been filled with security personnel, including regular police, armed police, and support [voluntary] forces.
“They seem to have brought in more police in the past couple of days,” he said.
Dilxat Raxit, spokesman for the Munich-based World Uyghur Congress, said Chinese authorities kept the installation of cameras in mosques quiet.
“China has announced that it has installed security cameras throughout the whole city for surveillance purposes, but it has avoided [telling us] that it has installed them in mosques,” Raxit said.
“The surveillance of places of worship and religious activity only serves to confirm that China has stepped up its controls over religion [in the region].”
He said that Chinese authorities had also hired a huge network of informants employed to watch residents.
“They now have all the Uyghurs under surveillance in the name of [counter-terrorism],” Raxit said.
“The government has taken systematic measures to do this.”
He said the problem of discriminatory treatment of Uyghurs has only become worse as a result.
U.S.-based dissident and political scientist Wang Juntao said he believes the controls are likely also to extend to Han Chinese, given that they played a large part in the rioting a year ago.
“I think that they probably weren’t watching that many people before the riots, but that now the number they are watching has risen very steeply,” Wang said.
“I think they won’t just be watching Uyghurs, but also Han Chinese, because relations between the Han and Uyghur residents of Urumqi have seriously deteriorated since last year’s rioting on July 5,” he said.
“I think that they will have to take this approach.”
Thousands more recruits
Xinhua said the authorities have" recruited an additional 5,000 police officers this year, quoting municipal police chief Wang Mingshan as saying security forces have been drilled to deal with emergencies.
Police have also launched a campaign to confiscate guns and explosives, launching a crackdown on violent crime in June, the agency said.
Meanwhile, Amnesty International called on the Chinese government to launch an independent inquiry into last year’s violence in the China’s Xinjiang region.
“The official account leaves too many questions unanswered. How many people really died, who killed them, how did it happen, and why?” said Catherine Baber, Amnesty International’s Asia-Pacific deputy director.
Last year’s ethnic clashes, which left nearly 200 people dead according to official figures, were sparked by a Uyghur demonstration July 5 to call for an investigation into Uyghur deaths during fighting at a factory in southern China.
Overseas Uyghur groups have accused the Chinese authorities of firing on unarmed protesters.
Urumqi authorities began sending home Uyghur university students from outlying areas of the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region in June, well in advance of Monday’s anniversary.
According to Xinhua, Urumqi was “bathed in golden sunshine” Monday, with stepped up security but with residents going about their business "peacefully."
Original reporting by RFA’s Uyghur service, in Cantonese by Hai Nan, and in Mandarin by Tang Qiwei. Uyghur service director: Dolkun Kamberi. Mandarin service director: Jennifer Chou. Cantonese service director: Shiny Li. Translated from the Chinese and written for the Web in English by Luisetta Mudie. Edited by Sarah Jackson-Han.