Human rights organisation Amnesty International has confirmed reports of continued repression by Beijing of its Muslim population. The regime has been stretching its imagination in its application of various new anti-terrorism laws, clamping down hard on the majority Uighur Muslims in East Turkestan (officially Xinjiang province).
Not unlike the west’s other allies, China has also claimed that a large number of these Muslim dissenters, who have been struggling for independence from the communist country, had been trained in Afghanistan and were linked with Usama bin Ladin. “The subjective yardstick of ‘terrorism’ has been used to detain a broad range of people, some of whom may have done little more than practise their religion or defend their culture,” said Amnesty in its report on March 22.
The crackdown this time has been extended to Islamic rituals and practices. Amnesty said that the communist regime has detained Muslim religious teachers for teaching the Qur’an, banned fasting in public premises, and closed down mosques because their location near schools is a “bad influence” on young people. It also revealed that by the end of last year the communist regime had made 8,000 imams undergo “training” to give them “a clearer understanding of the party’s ethnic and religious policies”.
Beijing’s crimes against the Muslims in East Turkestan are well documented. It is the only region of China where political prisoners are known to have been executed in recent years. The Western critics of China’s ‘undemocratic policies’ have been obsessed with Beijing’s suppression of other political dissent and curtailment of freedom of speech, although all that is mild in comparison with the Muslims’ plight under Beijing.
Tens of thousands of Uighur Muslims are still being held in prisons and subjected to various forms of torture. In addition, the regime openly practises mass trials and executions. Last October it passed on 12 Muslims sentences ranging from five years’ imprisonment to death after a brief ‘public sentencing meeting’; two of the defendants were executed immediately. Another well-known case is that of Rebiya Kadeer, a Muslim businesswoman, who was hailed by the government as a model citizen shortly before she was arrested and sentenced to eight years’ imprisonment after a secret trial in March last year. Her ‘crime’ was to send copies of publicly available newspapers to her husband, a former political prisoner living abroad.
China’s anti-Muslim policy has recently got worse, since US president George Bush secured the regime’s full backing for its ‘war against terrorism’. In return the US has agreed to intelligence-sharing with the Chinese and to lift a ban on the sale of Black Hawk helicopter-gunship spare parts, although officially this is denied. Beijing has also been assured of cooperation from Moscow, which has desperately sought international cooperation in its war against the Chechen mujahideen. Three other states, Kazakhstan, Kyrgystan and Uzbekistan, all engaged in repression against Islamic activists of their own, have also promised to cooperate with Beijing in return for Chinese reinforcements for their brutal security forces.
For the past ten years Beijing has been engaged in untold atrocities in the Muslim-majority province, which is rich in oil and gas. It tried its own version of ‘ethnic cleansing’ by bringing in the non-Muslim Han people to settle in East Turkestan and monopolise the region’s resources. The result is a sudden increase in the Han population, from about 5 percent in the 1950s to 38 percent now in a region of 20 million people.
Amnesty in its latest report has called on governments not to return to China anyone who is allegedly associated with any radical Islamist movement, because such individuals are likely to face torture or the death penalty. Muslim governments and Islamic movements, meanwhile, have shied away from attending to the plight of Muslims in East Turkestan. This is compounded by the lack of effort to forge ties with Muslims anywhere in China. One exception was that Mohamad Khatami, the Iranian president, pledged to forge greater links with the Uighur Muslims during a visit there in June 2000. Sadly, that too appears to have been hampered, as dealing with Beijing’s officially appointed Muslim ulama can in no way benefit ordinary Muslims.
The Organisation of Islamic Conference (OIC) has not even mentioned the crimes of Beijing in its rhetorical resolutions. Now, after September 11, its silence is expected to become even more conspicuous as the Chinese establishment continues to perpetrate atrocities on Chinese Muslims.