China Represses Muslim Uighurs: Rights Groups


Muslim Uighurs are known to be religious and mosques like this one can be found throughout the villages surrounding Tulufan.

CAIRO, April 12, 2005 ( – Two major human rights groups accused China of directing a crushing campaign of religious repression against its Muslim Uighurs minority, in the name of anti-separatism and counter-terrorism.

The accusation was made in a joint report by two human rights organisations, Human Rights Watch (HRW) and Human Rights in China.

The 114-page report, Devastating Blows: Religious Repression of Uighurs in Xinjiang, is based on previously undisclosed Communist Party and government documents, as well as local regulations, official newspaper accounts, and interviews conducted in Xinjiang, according to the Web site of Human Rights Watch (HRW) Tuesday, 12 April.

According to the report, peaceful Uighur activists are being arrested, tortured and at times executed, while harsher punishments are given for so-called separatist activity, which Chinese officials term “terrorism”.

“At its most extreme, peaceful activists practicing their religion in ways that the Party and government deem unacceptable are arrested, tortured, and at times executed,” said the report.

It added that half of the inmates in Xinjiang labor camps have been jailed without our trial or judicial review, for allegedly engaging in separatist activities.

“The harshest punishments are saved for those accused of involvement in so-called separatist activity, which officials increasingly term ‘terrorism’ for domestic and external consumption.”

The report also accuses China of “opportunistically using the post-11 September environment to make the outrageous claim that individuals disseminating peaceful religious and cultural messages in Xinjiang are terrorists who have simply changed tactics”.

The Uighurs are a Turkish-speaking minority of eight million whose traditional homeland lies in the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region in north-west China.

Perfect Excuse

“I am sure you are aware of the lack of freedom. That’s why no one can speak out, no one is free to say what they want,” Kadeer.

The Asia director for Human Rights Watch, Brad Adams, said the worldwide campaign against terrorism has given Beijing the “perfect excuse” to crack down on Xinjiang.

“Other Chinese enjoy a growing freedom to worship, but the Uighurs, like the Tibetans, find that their religion is being used as a tool of control.”

The Uighurs, according to HRW, have become increasingly fearful for their cultural survival and traditional way of life in the face of an intensive internal migration drive that has witnessed the arrival of more than 1.2 million ethnic Chinese settlers over the past decade.

“Uighurs are seen by Beijing as an ethno-nationalist threat to the Chinese state,” said Sharon Hom, executive director of Human Rights in China.

“As Islam is perceived as underpinning Uighur ethnic identity, China has taken draconian steps to smother Islam as a means of subordinating Uighur nationalist sentiment.”

The report said it unveils for the first time “the complex architecture of law, regulation, and policy in Xinjiang that denies Uighurs religious freedom, and by extension freedom of association, assembly, and expression”.

The Chinese government also vets those who can be Islamic scholars and what version of Noble Qur’an is acceptable.

“Chinese policy and law enforcement stifle religious activity and thought even in school and at home,” it said.

“One official document goes so far as to say that ‘parents and legal guardians may not allow minors to participate in religious activities’.”


Human Rights Watch and Human Rights in China called on the international community to “press China to repeal these regulations and end their policies and practices of discrimination against Uighurs.

The organizations also stressed the need to challenge Chinese assertions that all separatists are criminals or are connected to international terror networks.

“No country should return to China any Uighurs claimed by China to be involved in terrorism, separatism or other criminal acts,” said Adams.

“Given China’s past record, there is every reason to fear they will be tortured or even subjected to the death penalty once back in China.”

China has denied that it suppresses Islam in Xinjiang.



Chinese Muslim dissident Rebiya Kadeer, however, recalled hearing the screams of boys from her Uighur community being tortured in a Chinese prison and renewed her resolve to fight for the independence of her people.

“They were screaming, I could hear their screams,” Kadeer said in an interview with BBC television that was blacked out in China, according to the BBC News Online Tuesday.

“When they were dragging one out of the corridor, I could see him directly, … all of a sudden he turned and sees me, he pushes the guards away, walks directly to me, looks at me and says, ‘Mother, what are you doing in prison?’

“’Young boys like us are going to prison for mothers like you…’”

Kadeer, 58, was released from a Chinese jail last month on medical parole, after six years’ imprisonment, and deported to the United States.

A top campaigner for the rights of China’s Muslim Uighur minority, she was charged in 1999 with “providing secret information to foreigners”.

Kadeer, who told the BBC she escaped torture in jail, said nearly all Uighurs in China’s largely Muslim autonomous Xinjiang region supported independence from China.

“Anybody from a kid to 70-year-old people even dying tomorrow supports the independence movement,” she said.

“I am sure you are aware of the lack of freedom. That’s why no one can speak out, no one is free to say what they want.”

The mother of 11 said she worried about those of her children still in China and would work hard towards fighting for “hundreds of thousands of people (who) still remain behind bars.”

“I will do my best…to fight for them, nothing will stop me from that,” she said, according to the BBC.

As the director of a large and successful trading company, Kadeer founded the “Thousand Mothers Movement” in 1997 in an effort to promote job training and employment for Uighur women.

A former millionaire businesswoman, she was the highest-profile Uighur political prisoner and has become a symbol of the struggle of the eight million mainly Muslim Uighurs.