On Tuesday, China released the names of eight “terrorists” who are part of the minority Muslim community in western China.
The Chinese government imposed restrictions on the Uighur’s religious practice in this autonomous region.
Tensions also spiked between the Chinese government and the Uighurs during the Beijing Olympics.
Unrest in China’s Wild West
Like many of China’s inland waterways, the Yurungkax River in Xinjiang Province is filled with waste. Tailings from local jade and coal mines have turned this tributary into a channel of thick grey sludge that oozes out of the icy Kunlun mountains and meanders toward the desert floodplain. Closer to the Silk Road city of Hotan where security has been tight following a spate of violence in this remote northwestern region, bulldozers drained part of the river so that residents could dig for jade stones.
The dry, boulder-strewn riverbed is also the only place where one young Muslim jade dealer feels safe talking about China’s heavy-handed policies toward the Uyghur community.
“I wanted to study teachings like the Hadith (a collection of the Prophet Muhammad’s sayings). I’m too old now. It makes me sad,” says the 25-year-old man who asked to be identified only as “Hussein”. A Sunni ethnic group more related to the Turkic peoples of Central Asia than the dominant Chinese Hans, Uyghurs have long chafed at Beijing’s rule and stringent regulation of the practice of Islam.
Hussein and millions of other young Uyghurs did not attend madrassahs (religious school) or pray at mosques as children because of a government regulation that bans Islamic education for anyone under the age of 18. Since he did not learn about religious laws governing marriage and family, Hussein feels unprepared to have children and wonders if future generations will be able to practice their faith at all.
“Maybe in 10 years, there will be no more religion in Xinjiang,” says Hussein.
Human rights groups and Uyghur exile organizations echo Hussein’s concern. Since the end of the Olympic Games in late August, the Chinese government’s crackdown on Uyghurs in oil-rich Xinjiang appears to be worsening. Beginning with the Aug. 4 attack on 16 policemen in the city of Kashgar, a wave of violence carried out by what security officials tagged as Islamic separatists has resulted in a significant military deployment throughout the province, mass arrests of local Muslims, and a close surveillance of religious activities in the region’s southern and central counties.