Checkpoints Circle Urumqi


Chinese security forces increase patrols in Xinjiang's capital following a series of deadly attacks.

Authorities in the troubled northwestern region of Xinjiang have announced a fresh "strike hard" campaign targeting "terrorism" and "Islamic extremism" following a wave of violent attacks.

Security forces will set up a total of 39 checkpoints encircling the regional capital Urumqi, where nearly 200 people died in ethnic clashes between Muslim Uyghurs and Han Chinese in 2009, according to a statement on the Xinjiang government website.

A resident of Urumqi surnamed Li said there had been an increase in police patrols on the city's streets in the wake of three deadly attacks in Hotan and Kashgar in recent weeks.

"There were patrols before but they are closer together now, and there are more people than before," Li said.

"They don't really stop cars for checks so much in the daytime. They mostly do it at night."

The campaign, announced on the regional government website on Tuesday, will run from Aug. 11 to Oct. 15, and will increase police focus on potential trouble spots.

It would also include spot checks of identity and searches of people and vehicles, the statement said.

More police manpower would be directed to investigations, and the courts would speed up trials to process the larger number of suspects.

Penalties from theft to endangering state security would be harsher during the campaign, it said.

Kashgar targeted

Residents of Kashgar said they had also seen an increased security presence in recent days.

“All of Kashgar city is experiencing a stepped-up investigation into suspicious activities," said one woman from Kashgar.

"Public security units at all level across the city have been strengthened and security forces are patrolling around the clock in the main Uyghur residential area," she said.

The woman said that police had established checkpoints to check the IDs of residents in the streets.

"Police are conducting searches of the people and their vehicles. They are detaining people without IDs. It's creating fear. Government security personnel have forced women to remove their veils while out walking. If they don’t comply, they will be detained.”

A student in Kashgar told RFA that local authorities had increased ideological education on campuses, instructed students not to gather in groups anywhere in the city, and to carry their IDs at all times.

He added that many of the restrictions were meant to prevent the mostly-Muslim Uyghurs from observing the holy month of Ramadan, which runs from Aug. 1-30 this year.

"People aged 18 and under are not allowed to go to the mosque to pray ... School authorities have been distributing snacks to students to make sure they aren't fasting and preventing students from leaving campus until Friday’s prayers are over,” he said.

Underlying problems

However, an exile Uyghur group said the "strike hard" campaigns have not addressed the root cause of recent violence, which left three dozen people dead across the region.

Dilxat Raxit, spokesman for the Munich-based World Uyghur Congress, said the real aim of the campaigns is gradually to strip Uyghurs of their legitimate rights and demands, as part of a system-wide oppression of the Uyghur people.

"Striking hard will only lead to an even stronger backlash," Raxit said of the latest campaign. "I think that the Chinese are provoking and inciting local people."

"If they don't change [their policies], and desist from the 'strike hard' approach, then there will be a fresh wave of unrest in the region," he warned.

Uyghurs say they have long suffered ethnic discrimination, oppressive religious controls, and continued poverty and joblessness despite China's ambitious plans to develop its vast northwestern frontier.

Some Chinese commentators say the slew of recent attacks in Xinjiang show that Beijing's policy on ethnic minorities has gone badly wrong.

This year's Ramadan has brought a fresh clampdown on Muslims in the wake of a July 31 attack in the Silk Road city of Kashgar that left at least 14 people dead and 40 others injured.

The attacks in Kashgar and in the nearby city of Hotan two weeks earlier, in which 20 people were killed, mark the bloodiest violence in a year in Xinjiang, where Muslim Uyghurs chafe under Chinese rule.

Riots in Xinjiang's regional capital of Urumqi left at least 200 dead in July 2009 following clashes between Han Chinese and Uyghurs.

Reported by Hai Nan for RFA's Cantonese service and Guliqiekela Keyoumu for RFA's Uyghur service. Translated from Uyghur by Dolkun Kamberi. Translated from Chinese and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.