URUMQI – Amid intensifying massive crackdown on Uighurs in the Muslim-majority Xinjiang province, human rights activists have warned that religious, cultural and language restrictions would spark more tension and violence in the mineral-rich district for years.
“Uighurs have increasingly said that they feel that they are the minority in what has historically been a region in which they have been the majority," Sophie Richardson, China director at the Human Rights Watch, told Anadolu Agency on Thursday, May 8.
“They have become strangers in their own land,” Richardson added.
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Xinjiang has been autonomous since 1955 but continues to be the subject of massive security crackdowns by Chinese authorities.
Rights groups accuse Chinese authorities of religious repression against Uighur Muslims, a Turkish-speaking minority of eight million, in Xinjiang in the name of counter terrorism.
The Chinese accusations increased following an attack at the end of April at the southern railway station in Xinjiang’s capital Urumqi left at least three killed and 79 injured, according to China’s state media.
The attack, a dual suicide attack, highlighted ethnic tensions in one of China’s most restive regions.
As one of the attackers was identified as Sedierding Shawuti, a 39-year-old member of China’s Muslim Uighur community, Chinese authorities were quick to blame the attack, the first in 17 years, on Uighur Muslims.
The accusations were coupled by a number of measures aiming at restricting religious practices by the district’s Muslim majority, adding to piling anger.
"There are restrictions about who can say prayers at weddings, or restrictions about who can fast during Ramadan," Richardson said.
"There are [even] restrictions on who can grow beards."
Many experts have blamed the rising tensions in East Turkistan district on the rapid influx of Chinese Han population on the district, deemed as the homeland for Uighur Muslims.
The Han population rose from 6.7 percent (220,000) in 1949 to 40 percent (8.4 million) in 2008, according to the Statistical Bureau of Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region.
From 1950s to 1970s, Han migration to Xinjiang was mainly state-orchestrated, sent to work at the state-run Xinjiang Production and Construction Corps (XPCC).
"Infrastructure built in Xinjiang to ‘help’ the local population in fact largely serves to meet the needs of Han Chinese in the economic exploitation of Xinjiang’s vast oil and mineral resources," Stephanie Gordon, a researcher in political science, at the University of Leicester in the UK told AA.
“This policy has done little to serve the local Uighur population, and heightened tensions within the region," she added.
Anti-Uighur Muslims discrimination has widened to reach job opportunities, reserving most job postings in the district for Chinese Hans.
A report released in March 2011 found that a civil service recruitment on county-level reserved 93 of 224 open positions for Han and 38 positions for Uighurs, Kazakhs, Hui and Kyrgyz.
"There is a clear policy of discrimination against the local Uighur population," Stephanie Gordon said.
"This has prompted many to leave the region in search of employment opportunities, further reducing the percentage of their population within Xinjiang."
Xinjiang's capital, Urumqi, was the scene of deadly violence in July 2009 when the mainly Muslim Uighur minority vented resentment over Chinese restrictions in the region.
In the following days, mobs of angry Han took to the streets looking for revenge in the worst ethnic violence that China had seen in decades.
The unrest left nearly 200 dead and 1,700 injured, according to government figures. But Uighurs, a Turkic-speaking Muslim minority, say the toll was much higher and mainly from their community.
China’s authorities have convicted about 200 people, mostly Uighurs, over the riots and sentenced 26 of them to death.
Reproduced with permission from OnIslam.net - Read full article here
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