Uyghur Update: 22nd-29th September

Inside the Uyghur Region

Religion

Apparently China has blocked Islamophobic terms online. That’s a nice gesture. Anything to keep the stability and harmony. Islamophobia has definitely been rising in Chinese sentiment recently.

And yet this person was sentenced for 10 years for allegedly promoting wearing headscarves (and the article also mentions a few more arrest cases), Qurans and prayer mats have to be handed into the police, or people found with those will face harsh consequence, and there are rumours about mosques being shut down every day except Friday. What happens when the Islamophobia is institutional?

Education

This article was released, talking about the education opportunities given to Uyghur students in mainland China. It makes a point to say that halal food is served to the Uyghur and Hui kids. Everyone is happy and good. I think on a personal level, it’s nice that these kids are given opportunities to have a better education, and it shows that given the chance, these kids can excel wherever they are put. I am just wary that they’re being taught to be as patriotic as the Han kids, which is a problem the whole of China faces. And I am also wary of how they are being used as examples of harmony or whatever. Hopefully the Uyghur kids get the education they need then enact policy change there or something. Or get the opportunity to study overseas and learn to think for themselves. (Just me being unrealistically optimistic). It’s troubling thought, because just in that same province there is this crap happening:

Academics at a university in the eastern province of Zhejiang will have any online political essays in line with ruling Chinese Communist Party ideology assessed in appraisals and job applications under new regulations governing academic “excellence,” a spokesman said on Tuesday.

An official who answered the phone at the propaganda office of the University of Zhejiang party committee confirmed online reports that a new set of guidelines aim at encouraging “excellence in online culture” is now being implemented at the school.

The rules will apply equally to students and faculty at the university, when assessing their academic excellence, the officials said.

“These measures are aimed at students and faculty at this university, when their research excellence is being assessed and scored,” the official said.

If they write good things about the Party’s ideologies, they get bonus academic points for work and education opportunities. Bloody hell.

Meanwhile, places like Hotan are giving huge incentives for teachers to come and implement “bilingual education”.

Security

NPR released a story describing how security has increased in Urumchi. It’s a pretty neat article with a lot of interviews with locals, so check it out. Or I guess I can paste some of it here:

Drawing on central government subsidies, Xinjiang spent around $6 billion — more than half the region’s own income — on security in the first half of 2017, [Adrian Zenz, a researcher at the European School of Culture and Theology] says.

This massive investment on security measures can be felt along the streets of Urumqi, a city of 4 million people. Every few blocks there’s a police station, where officers routinely demand identification from passersby. City shops are forced to employ and pay security guards who wear red armbands and are armed with batons.

Gas stations are fenced off with razor wire, and guards demand drivers’ IDs to enter. Cameras lining the streets “capture every square inch” of the city, one resident boasts. Thousands of the region’s newest security jobs, says Zenz, are for video and Internet surveillance staff.

Interviews with people:

The new police state comes with an eerie soundtrack. Along the streets, you hear the same pair of Mandarin-language propaganda songs: a jolly children’s song about obeying traffic laws, and a more somber acoustic tune that promotes core Communist values. The government forces shops and restaurants in Uighur neighborhoods to broadcast these two songs all day on a loop.

A middle-aged man who trades auto parts tells me all this new security has killed the local economy. Like many Uighur men, he travels frequently to Central Asian countries on business — and like every Uighur I spoke to, he doesn’t want to use his name for fear of getting in trouble with police.

“It’s nearly impossible for me to run my business now,” the man says. “I can no longer travel abroad because police have seized all of our passports. You have to ask permission to travel now, and once you return from a trip, they find you and ask what you did there, who you saw. It’s troublesome. Before we could come and go as we pleased.”

The businessman says all this security has had a personal impact, too.

“We can’t even visit our relatives anymore,” he says. “If we try, the local police will come to check on us to see what we’re doing there.”

In other parts of Xinjiang, the government has set up political re-education centers, where Uighurs who have managed to travel abroad are detained upon reentry — sometimes for months — and forced to watch propaganda videos and take classes in Mandarin language and Chinese identity before being released.

At a nearby coffee shop, a young Uighur woman says police now stop residents on the street and force them to hand over their phones. Then they plug them into a computer and force residents to download a government app.

“The app automatically checks to see if other apps on your phone are safe,” she says, meaning permitted by the government. “If not, it’ll ask you to delete them. It’ll also detect videos about terrorism and things like that. Some apps, like the camera apps that girls like that make you prettier, aren’t allowed.”

As she speaks, the café manager interrupts, quietly speaking to the woman in Uighur. She nods her head and adds, “don’t get me wrong — this is all for our own safety.”

Outside Urumqi’s city center is a ring of suburbs where most of the city’s Han residents live. He Jin, 36, says after the riots of 2009 she was scared of venturing into the city’s Uighur enclave.

“Without these new security measures, each time I see a face that doesn’t look like mine, I might wonder if they’re terrorists from outside the country or if they’re going to throw a bomb or something,” says He. “Now with a police station every few hundred feet, I feel safe.”

But Xiang Xin Xin, 27, has a different take. He’s Han, he’s young, and he says a rising police state is a drag to live in.

“Everywhere you go, they check your ID,” he says. “Restaurants and shops waste money on hiring security guards. There’s nowhere fun to go out at night because everything closes early.”

Xiang says he went to college in Shanghai, nearly 2,000 miles away, where he admired the skyscrapers and walked along leafy lanes with no security personnel demanding to see your ID.

He says he felt free.

But damn, look at that surveillance system. It looks like a sci-fi movie. No wonder people feel safe/suffocated. This is worse than Big Brother. Big Brother didn’t have the tech. And no wonder all types of veils are being banned. Even headscarves that don’t cover the face usually cover part of the face (so for passport photos and such in the US the hijab-wearer would have to pull back the scarf enough to show the whole face, which isn’t how we’d casually wear it). Perhaps part of the reason was so that we would be easily identifiable by technology. (Here’s a story about surveillance and restrictive policies in Chinese for you Chinese-reading readers.)

This guy (not Uyghur or in the region) was sentenced to 9 months in jail and fined 1000 yuan for joking about joining ISIS on WeChat. “Promoting terrorism and extremism”. These social media companies are also apparently getting fined for hosting illegal things.

Arrests

Abdurehim Heyt has been in prison for the last 5 months :(. No word on why he was arrested. This report comes from fellow artist/poet Tahir Hamut (who has left the country and now has Facebook and Instagram). Some others have also heard the news from some of Heyt’s students.

6 students coming back from Turkey were sent to re-education camps upon arrival and sentenced to 6-12 months in jail. Charges unknown.

More details on the Uyghur students in Egypt. Of the approx. 100 detained, 25 were released and 16 seem to have been deported.

This week was the anniversary of Ilham Tohti’s arrest. The link summarises the reasons behind his arrests and the conditions of his imprisonment. There is no new news. UNPO also released a statement.

Miscellaneous

But not all is lost – Uyghur models and actors are in high demand for their versatile looks – just enough Asian, just enough European. The article is more proof that “becoming Chinese” will let you succeed in China. I relate to Parwena – mistaken for every culture except my own, I just have to change my Muslim-sounding name on my resume to get all the interview offers. If only the rest of us Uyghur folk could be allowed live the way we wanted. What an idea. (But really, I’m not sure what these sorts of articles are trying to say. Uyghur beauty is a great commodity? Exploit Uyghurs for the beauty trends? Assimilate and you will succeed? Uyghurs are exotic Chinese nationals? Is this similar to the colonization of Afro-American beauty in the US? Where white capitalists exploit black beauty trends and beautiful black people while marginalizing the rest of black society? Is Parwena the Raven Symone of Uyghur pop culture?)

 

International

Human Rights Watch released a statement questioning China’s interference with Interpol. Meanwhile, China says it will be supporting Interpol. Y’know. For the world’s security and stability.

Australia stood up to China, hooray. Chinese police aren’t allowed to do whatever they want in Australia, or extradite people they believe to be criminals. Finally. But, China is still exerting a little more than soft power on Australians with a connection to China.

This poster was seen on the side of a train in Geneva. It says “Freedom for East Turkestan” and seems to have been put up by the International Muslim Women’s Union. I don’t have any other information.

The BBC released this article which was deleted, but I found someone who went through and commented on it. It is pretty hilarious, especially the bit where the 6ft 200 lb white man takes the poor Uyghur man into a tea house and pours him tea while everyone glares at him for bringing this barely existent Eastern European Muslim man inside. Yes, Uyghurs are oppressed, but this sort of stuff is not helpful. Maybe I should be submitting articles to BBC – they don’t seem to fact check at all.

In response to that train wreck of a New York Times article last week, Omer Kanat published a Letter to the Editor which you can read here.

 

Outside of Politics

Uyghur food was represented by Etles Uyghur Restaurant in the UK International Food and Culture Festical. Nice.

This paper was released talking about how best to preserve our language. The Uighur Language School of SA was featured (ayy shoutout). I haven’t read the paper.

This article came out describing the “Mothers on Undidar” – a pretty cool  insight into Uyghur women empowerment through social media.

Erkin Abdulla is continuing to put on musical performances in California, which is nice. He has a show coming up in October. You can follow his stuff on his Instagram. In a similar vein, there is child TV personality (?) Kaisar Anvar on Instagram as well, continuing his music career as a pianist.

 

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