This article was originally published by Radio Free Asia and is reprinted with permission.
In the latest “strike hard” campaign in Xinjiang, authorities are cracking down on any gatherings of more than 30 people and say it will last 100 days, according to Chinese media and two police officers in the region, in the latest effort to persecute the predominantly Muslim Uyghurs who live there.
China regularly conducts “strike hard” campaigns in its far western region of Xinjiang that include police raids on Uyghur households, restrictions on Islamic practices and curbs on the culture and language of the ethnic minority group.
Reports about the start of the new campaign in Xinjiang appeared on the Chinese social media app Douyin on July 3, saying it was being implemented across Hotan prefecture, which is in southern Xinjiang.
“The Hotan Prefecture Public Security Bureau will implement summer strikes, taking place from June 25 to Sept. 30 in order to ensure the protection of security within the region,” said Chinese media reported.
Other media in Urumqi, capital of the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, and Korla, the second-largest city in the region, broadcast similar announcements. Information about the 100-day strike hard campaign also appeared on government websites for every prefecture in Xinjiang.
Local public security bureaus are carrying out the operation in their respective areas, focusing on “crimes” deemed to pose a threat to public order, Chinese media reports said.
The illegal activities include “stirring up trouble, engaging in group fights, bullying the public, blackmailing, monopolizing the market, participating in illegal gatherings, and spreading rumors with malicious intent.” Authorities also will target “illegal mafias and criminal organizations.”
‘Combat illegal activities’
RFA contacted police stations in various cities and counties in Xinjiang for information on the campaign, and two officers working the night shift at the Toqquztara County Police Department in northern Xinjiang’s Ili Kazakh Autonomous Prefecture confirmed the 100-day campaign.
A Chinese police officer said that the 100-day strike hard measures are in effect continuously throughout the year.
“We take action against illegal activities at any time throughout the entire year, 365 days,” he said. “Even after the conclusion of the 100-day strike, our efforts to combat illegal criminal activities will not cease.”
Another officer there said the current strike-hard campaign is targeting individuals involved in drug use, drug dealing, gambling, group fighting and theft, as well as those who pose threats and disturbances to public peace.
“If we just watch and do nothing, they will think nothing is going to happen to them,” he said. “Some individuals may choose to hide during the day and engage in theft during the night, and we can take care of that.”
Additionally, those who host gatherings with more than 30 people, organize parties or conduct religious ceremonies without first reporting to their neighborhood committee or to police will be targeted for holding “illegal gatherings,” the police officer said, referring to religious gatherings.
“While some individuals may attend gatherings with good intentions, there are others who may have ulterior motives,” the policeman said. “However, regardless of their initial intentions, if any participant engages in discussions or activities involving forbidden matters, all individuals present at the gathering will face consequences.”
Other illegal activities include watching and sharing forbidden content.
Reading from the Quran, the central religious text of Islam, should only be done under the guidance of a government-assigned imam, and individuals are forbidden to discuss the holy book on their own, the second officer said.
Individuals from abroad who come to Xinjiang, including those visiting relatives, should report to neighborhood committees or a local police station within three days of their arrival or risk police action, he added.
Neither Chinese media nor police contacted by Radio Free Asia states reasons for the current strike hard campaign.
Catalyst for crackdown
The current crackdown coincides with a politically sensitive anniversary of deadly ethnic violence in Urumqi, which began on July 5, 2009.
The unrest was set off by a clash between Uyghur and Han Chinese toy factory workers in southern China’s Guangdong province in late June that year that left two Uyghurs dead. News of the deaths reached Uyghurs in Urumqi, sparking a peaceful protest that spiraled into beatings and killings of Chinese, with deaths occurring on both sides. Chinese mobs later staged revenge attacks on Uyghurs in the city’s streets with sticks and metal bars.
About 200 people died and 1,700 were injured in three days of violence between ethnic minority Uyghurs and Han Chinese, according to China’s official figures.
Uyghur rights groups say the numbers of dead and injured were much higher.
The crackdown in Urumqi became a catalyst for the Chinese government’s efforts to repress Uyghur culture, language and religion through mass surveillance and internment campaigns.
“Behind the repressive measures undertaken by the Chinese Communist Party government, there are significant underlying issues,” said Omir Bekali, a Uyghur of Kazakh descent who spent nine months in three “re-education” camps in Xinjiang on allegations of terrorist activities, commenting on the latest strike hard campaign.
“First, the timing of this ‘strike’ operation coincides with the July 5 Urumqi incident, a sensitive event that the Chinese government prefers not to acknowledge,” he told RFA. “It has been 14 years since the incident, yet the crackdown persists.”
“Second, the current policies pursued by the Chinese government in the region can be seen as a form of ethnic and cultural genocide,” he said, adding that authorities justify subjecting Uyghurs to physical and psychological harm as necessary measures for maintaining social stability.
The government also imposes restrictions on Uyghur weddings, funerals and candlelight ceremonies that do not adhere to government regulations, labeling them “illegal gatherings” as another way of carrying out genocide, said Bekali, who now lives in the Netherlands.
The U.S. government and the parliaments of several Western countries have said that abuses, including the detention of Uyghurs in camps and prisons, physical mistreatment and torture, and the use of Uyghur forced labor, amount to genocide or crimes against humanity.