China crackdown on Muslims in Xinjiang

27th Jun 2014

Ibtehaal Manji

On the morning of May 22, two vehicles were crashed into a market in Urumqi, the capital of Xinjiang, reportedly killing 39 people and injuring at least 90.

Xinjiang, the north-western region of China, has seen an increase in attacks which media hastens to label as “acts of terrorism”. With news coming out of the region being subject to heavy restrictions, information is difficult to verify independently.

While it may be true that many of the Uyghurs of Xinjiang are in favour of an independent state, Beijing staunchly maintains that Xinjiang is a part of China, and has been continuously relocating many Han Chinese into the region, such that the once majority Uyghurs, who are Muslim, are quickly becoming a minority.

There have also been restrictions on Islamic practices in Xinjiang, including wearing headscarves and fasting during Ramadan. The attacks could be seen as acts of rebellion, or expressions of the discontent that many of the Government policies are fostering in Xinjiang.

In the wake of the attack on the market in Urumqi, authorities have sentenced nine people to death for crimes of “violent terrorism”. The convicted are among 81 defendants, who were accused of inciting ethnic hatred, or organising and participating in terrorist organisations, and have all received various punishments. The convictions come just as China announces the launch of a year-long crackdown on violence in Xinjiang.

The response of the Chinese authorities has consisted of a series of hard-line measures, including mass trials, where family members are required to attend and applaud when severe sentences are handed down to relatives; the purpose of such trials is to instil fear into the people of Xinjiang, as the Government attempts to send clear warnings of their zero-tolerance policy for violence, and forcibly silence the Uyghur people’s legitimate demands.

According to Radio Free Asia, the Government has issued a “shoot to kill” order, in attempts to suppress the violence in the region. The Uyghur American Association has said that the Chinese authorities will interpret the silence from the international community as license to continue the crackdown with further strength.

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