Uyghur woman who complained about land grab arrested by authorities in Xinjiang

She eked out a living on less than 2 acres of land.
By Shohret Hoshur for RFA Uyghur
2024.05.15
Uyghur woman who complained about land grab arrested by authorities in Xinjiang Belikiz, a Uyghur from Astana village in Kumul, northwestern China's Xinjiang region, in a screenshot from an undated Douyin video.
@abduweLA via Twitter

A Uyghur woman was arrested last month after she posted a video on social media complaining that authorities had seized her land in Xinjiang, leaving her without means to eke out a living, the security director of her village said.

The woman, identified only as Belikiz, 35, from Astana village in Kumul, called Hami in Chinese, said authorities confiscated her land at the end of 2023 to implement a policy of “concentrating lands in the hands of authorities.” 

She expressed despair over the Chinese government’s unwillingness to resolve the issue in the video on Douyin, a Chinese video-sharing platform.  

“Even if the land was allocated to us by the government, we’ve invested 3-4 years cultivating it,” she says in the video. “Why won’t the government advocate for us farmers? If you doubt my words, just look at those machines tearing up our farmlands.” 

“How are we supposed to sustain our livelihoods and send our children to school?” she asked. “Isn’t there a country that can support us? Is there no organization we can turn to for help?”

‘Systematic confiscation’

For years, authorities in Xinjiang have seized land and property from Uyghurs to make way for development projects run by Han Chinese migrants. Those who lose land often have little or no recourse for adequate compensation or justice because of high levels of collusion between local officials and developers.

Uyghurs complain that the migrants have displaced them from their traditional homeland and deprived them of financial opportunities under harsh Beijing rule.

Police quickly deleted the video from Douyin not long after it was uploaded and arrested Belikiz on April 15, said Astana village’s security director, who declined to be named out of fear of retribution. 

He said he learned of the woman’s arrest about 20 days later and that authorities apprehended her because of a complaint letter she previously submitted to the government about the issue.

It was unclear whether her arrest was directly related to the video addressing the land seizure, he added. 

“The systematic confiscation of land from Uyghurs has been an ongoing issue for a long time,” said a Uyghur former police officer who now lives Sweden. “We owe our insight into these injustices to the courage of individuals who bravely share their stories through videos like these.”

‘Keep tormenting us’

Belikiz initially set up two bookstores after graduating from high school because she failed the national college entrance examination, the village security director said. 

But when business endeavors were unsuccessful, she turned to farming, he said. 

Belikiz had farmed on about 7-8 mu of land for the past 1-2 years. The Chinese unit of land measurement varies with location but is commonly equal to 0.165 acre, so she had less than two acres.

After area officials confiscated the land, which constituted all her capital, Belikiz recorded the video on Douyin about the issues she and other Uyghur farmers in Kumul and the rest of Xinjiang faced.

“Are they going to keep tormenting us just because the government is powerful?” she asked. “Wouldn't it be better if we were spared from all this suffering?” 

The Uyghur former police officer who lives in Sweden noted that no land is safe from seizure. 

“The Chinese government can seize land from individuals at any given moment, under any pretext,” he said, declining to be named for fear of retaliation. 

Individuals cannot privately own land and natural resources, according to China’s  constitution and land laws. The Constitution specifies that land in urban areas must be owned by the state, while land in rural and suburban areas must be owned by the state or by local collectives.

“The video depicting the anguish of a farmer woman in Kumul following the loss of her land is a stark reminder of this reality,” the former policeman said.

Other locations

Similar land-grab incidents also have occurred in Ghulja, a county-level city in northwestern Xinjiang, called Yining in Chinese.

Since the 2000s, Chinese authorities in Xinjiang have carried out “development measures” by “concentrating lands in the hands of authorities.”

The policy allowed Han Chinese migrants to seize Uyghur farmland and force Uyghurs to work as laborers on the same plots.

“Regardless of the reason, openly voicing complaints against the Chinese oppressors or making any form of complaint is considered a violation of the law,” the former policeman said.

“While [Belikiz] managed to upload a video discussing her hardships, millions of others in our homeland cannot,” he said. 

Zumrat Dawut, a former Uyghur internment camp detainee who was forcibly sterilized but now lives in the United States, said she managed to downloaded Belikiz’s video to her phone even though it had been removed from Douyin.

Dawut resorted to alternative methods to download the video and then uploaded it to Facebook so more people could view it.

“Reporters and media outlets following my feed inquired about the woman in the video, asking why she was crying and what had occurred,” Dawut told Radio Free Asia.

She expressed admiration for Belikiz’s courage, but voiced concern about potential consequences she might face. 

Dawut urged human rights groups and Uyghur advocacy groups to monitor Belikiz’s situation and the repercussions she might face for speaking out.

“This woman has taken a tremendous risk to raise her voice,” she said.  

Translated by RFA Uyghur. Edited by Roseanne Gerin and Malcolm Foster.

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