World Uyghur Congress, 17 May 2015
The year 2015 continued the downward spiral in human rights protections for the Uyghur community living in East Turkestan (officially the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region of China) and abroad. Despite continued efforts from rights groups around the world working to bring to light issues that remain purposely obscured and largely overlooked by the international community, many of the rights that Uyghurs once held – one year ago, five years ago or ten years ago – are gradually being eroded. The report can be downloaded in full here.
The importance of the protection of human rights has been trending downward under China’s current leader, Xi Jinping. In 2015, China’s strategy has moved from mere rhetoric to passing concrete legislation that will certainly have the effect of limiting the rights of the Uyghur community in particular. We have seen this in the passage of China’s National Security Law and the Anti-Terrorism Act over the past year, as well as the introduction of the Overseas NGO Management Law, which passed its second reading in May 2015, and the Network Security Law, which was first introduced for public comment in July.
Many of these laws have been touted as responses to increased insecurity and violence, but do very little to recognize underlying issues that have persisted for decades and have given rise to real tension.
By now, it cannot be more clear that open dissent is not tolerated by the state. Although demonstrations and protests had been met by deadly force beginning in the 1990s, collective action by Uyghurs in East Turkestan continued in the years following. Even until 2014, media reports suggested that small demonstrations continued, and were met with the same heavy resistance.
It is now more clear that the consequences of any form of open resistance may be severe and result in unjustifiably long prison sentences, or in other cases, extrajudicial killing at the hands of security forces. Because police and security forces are almost never held to account over the death of civilians, they rarely exercise restraint in their use of force.
The result of these measures is a worsening climate of fear and helplessness. The Chinese Communist Party continues to abuse the entire Uyghur population of East Turkestan under the guise of “stability maintenance” or “counter-terrorism”. It must be noted that although a miniscule fraction of the Uyghur population living in the region has turned to violence in response to China’s heavy-handed policies, it in no way legitimizes broad and dangerous generalizations or collective punishment. Rather than stabilizing the situation and restoring an amicable relationship between the Uyghur and Han people, such sledgehammer policies serve only to deepen resentment between the groups as well as between Uyghurs and the state.
Major human rights issues permeating the Uyghur community in East Turkestan picked up where they left off in 2014. Increased restrictions on religious practice continued as mosque-goes were monitored, religious teachers tightly controlled by authorities and prohibitions on religious expression led to many arrests.
Continued economic disparities between the Uyghur and Han populations went unaddressed and China’s economic development plans have not yet made any explicit effort to address the underlying problem. Efforts to curb violence were also stepped up with the passage of counter-terror legislation that will openly allow for further discrimination on the basis of ethnicity. These restrictions, when seen collectively, are also reflected in the rise in Uyghur asylum cases seen throughout the previous years.
The current report looks to provide a comprehensive picture of the conditions in which the Uyghur community in East Turkestan and abroad are currently faced with, particularly human rights abuses that come at the hands of the Chinese government through policy decisions. Those with the most significant focus here are measures associated with counter-terrorism, religious freedom, state surveillance and freedom of movement, and the rights of asylum seekers fleeing East Turkestan as a direct result.
The report aims to address those issues in depth and provide the necessary historical context for a well-rounded understanding of the situation. Additionally, the purpose of the report will be to provide a resource for the international community to better respond to rights abuses that are too often ignored and purposely obscured by Chinese officials.