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China intensifies repression in Xinjiang
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After banning long beards and veils for Muslims, China has now come out with yet another set of restrictions for Muslims—they cannot name their new-borns any name which has ``strong Islamic influences``. This is the latest of the diktats to come from a desperate Beijing which has been trying, with the help of guns and bullets, to quell the legitimate demands of Muslims in Xinjiang.
Over 10 million Muslims who populate the western-most province, abutting the border with Pakistan, have been on a war path for years now, seeking freedom to practice their religion and live according to their own unique culture and traditions. The Communist China views religion with suspicion and has been ruthlessly purging any attempt to promote or project any religious belief beyond the red lines set by the Community Part of China.
It is an irony that while in most parts of the world, the governments are banning dangerous drugs and obnoxious media, to safeguard the interests of their citizens, Beijing is busy preparing list of names which its Muslim population cannot use. The list of 29 names has been prepared so callously that the authorities have included `Muhammad` with `jihad` and others. The banned names include those which are related to religious or political figures in Islam. The final decision on the ``religiosity`` of the names would rest with the local government official who would be a party official, a Han and certainly not a Muslim.
The Chinese have been terrorising the Xinjiang Muslims for years now, often labelling most of them as `terrorists`` and forced to take part in ``anti-terror`` drills which includes shutting their shops, getting out of their homes or drop whatever they are doing and gather in the street at the sound of a gong. The scared people are then made to undergo a long list of ``actions`` which are downright humiliating, all with armed soldiers watching every move closely. Then there are regular ``public meetings`` where Xinjiang Muslims are made to collect in large grounds or stadiums and to take the oath of allegiance to the Chinese state, under the hawkeyed soldiers armed with heavy guns with armoured personnel carriers standing nearby. These scenes are that of a country under subjugation; but Xinjiang and the people who live there are very much Chinese and at least on paper and enjoy the benefits of being so.
But then what China says on paper and what it does on ground are two separate things—this is proved without any doubt, on a daily basis, in Xinjiang. The Chinese misdeeds in Xinjiang also exposes its new-found ally, Pakistan, a Muslim country which remains mute to the atrocities heaped on Muslims in China. Pakistan’s brazen complicity with the Chinese repression of Muslim citizens is apparent from the resounding silence at the political level and at the level of citizens.
Last time, there was much hue and cry over the restrictions imposed by the Chinese authorities on observing Ramzan, an official delegation was sent with great reluctance to China to ``investigate``. What happened to that delegation remains a mystery; its report, if made at all, was never made public. It was a sham, put up by Islamabad to hoodwink its people because a slow but steady murmur of protests had begun on the issue of how China treats Muslims. A Pakistani blogger, writing in the influential Pakistani English daily, Dawn, a few years ago had summed up the situation quite aptly. Referring to the Chinese ban on observing fast on Ramzan and an orchestrated campaign, accompanied by threats, to discourage Muslim women from wearing veil, he called these restrictions `` a flagrant assault on the Uighur people’s cultural values…These increasingly despotic measures are being adopted under the doctrine that counter-terrorism definitively trumps individual liberty, although I’m personally having a hard time figuring out how to weaponise yoghurt and facial hair.`` (one of the items which a Uighur Muslim is forbidden from carrying in a public bus is yoghurt).
The current round of repression against Uighur Muslims began less than two years after Xi Jinping took over as the President of China in November 2012. In 2014, Xi launched a “strike-hard campaign” in Xinjiang which witnessed widespread repression and arrests of largely innocent men and women. The total of arrested persons stood at 27,164 that year. This was followed by a giant public trial at a sports stadium packed with 7,000 spectators, during which 55 persons were ``found guilty`` of terrorism and three of them were given death sentence.
The next summer, authorities issued a decree banning civil servants, students and teachers from fasting during Ramzan; universities and public workplaces compelled their staff and students to eat during lunch hours and Uighur-run restaurants were forced to keep their shops open during lunch hour. The authorities kept a list of those who abstained from lunch in colleges and public workplaces.
This was not all; a slew of ban orders followed in quick succession. These bans included people with beards and those wearing Islamic clothes travelling in public buses; taxi drivers were threatened with cancellation of licence if they were to pick up Muslim passengers sporting beards. Newspapers reported that in 2015, a man in Kashgar was jailed for six years for refusing to shave his beard and in 2016 a farmer in Aksu was sentenced to seven years in prison after watching a “sensitive” film on migration.
With all these measures failing to stem dissent, the Chinese government organised in April 2016 a conference on religious affairs in which President Xi Jinping calling for a “sinicization” of religion in China; he declared that maulvis and imams alike should bow to the power of the Communist party. He ordered party members to act as unyielding Marxist atheists, and warned: “We must resolutely guard against overseas infiltrations via religious means.”
China’s deceit can be seen from its projection of being a ``victim of terrorism``, copying in essence the policy of its ally, Pakistan, while opening all fronts against Uighur Muslims. So brazenly have the Chinese been positioning themselves at the international forums that at the 2015 G20 meeting in Turkey, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi moaned about his country being `` a victim of terrorism``, adding that they were waging their `war against terrorism` in Xinjiang. He wanted the international community to support them and warned against ``double standards``.
The irony of this claim and bluster may not have been lost on those who know the reality of Chinese actions against its own Muslim citizens in Xinjiang. The Chinese have for long been blocking all Indian attempts to sanction terrorist groups and leaders sheltered in Pakistan. China has vetoed every single attempt by India, and other nations, to force Pakistan to stop supporting and protecting terrorists. The Chinese double-standards also became even more apparent when after the Paris attacks in November 2015, the Chinese military launched a brutal military offensive against Uighurs and reported killing ``28 terrorists…led by foreign extremists``. Needless to say, the Chinese authorities did not bother to present any evidence of these ``terrorists`` nor did they allow any journalists to report on their military crackdown. This duplicity was exposed when a French reporter Ursula Gauthier wrote that the China would be using the excuse of Paris attacks to justify its brutal crackdown on the Muslim community in Xinjiang. A miffed China sought an apology from her and when she refused to do so, her requests for a new journalist visa was turned down and she was asked to leave the country.
Manzoor Ahmed