Durante la sessione della Commissione dell’ONU in cui si dibatteva dei diritti umani in Cina, la delegazione cinese aveva affermato, e negato, che non ci sono conflitti etnici nella regione autonoma dello Uyghur, ma pissibili “politiche preferenziali per gli Uyghuri e altre minoranze etniche.
CECC Roundtable- February 13, 2008
Human Rights in Xinjiang: Recent Developments
During this week’s Universal Periodic Review of China at the UN, a member of the Chinese delegation asserted that there is no ethnic conflict in the People’s Republic of China. Chinese ambassador Li Baodong emphasized what he called “preferential policies” for Uyghurs and other minority nationalities, citing lower score requirements for university entrance exams. According to the Chinese delegation, the only discontent that exists among Uyghurs is sown by hostile foreign forces aiming to split China- and this discontent does not represent the happy majority.
Unfortunately, the reality for Uyghurs in the PRC is much different than the Chinese delegation’s rhetoric would have us believe. It is hard to reconcile these remarks with security clampdowns that have been ongoing in East Turkestan (also known as Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region) in the past year, and a human rights situation for Uyghurs that is more severe than it has been in many years. The year 2008 was one of disappointment for those who hoped that the Olympics might expand freedoms for Uyghurs.
Underlining the PRC’s massive campaign against Uyghurs in 2008 was a rise in reported arrests for terrorism, extremism and other state security charges in East Turkestan. According to an official Chinese newspaper report, nearly 1,300 people were arrested in East Turkestan on state security crimes in 2008, marking a steep increase over previous years. The 2008 figures marked a very sharp increase over 2007, which saw only 742 people arrested on state security crimes throughout the entire PRC. Under Chinese law, individuals can be prosecuted for “endangering state security” if they are believed to have engaged in subversion, “splittism”, and “illegally providing state secrets to overseas entities,” all charges that are of a highly subjective nature in the PRC.
The PRC government has undertaken a fierce campaign of repression in East Turkestan since the Olympic Games period, when a series of violent attacks took place in and around the cities of Kashgar and Kucha. Xinjiang Party Secretary Wang Lequan announced a “life or death struggle” in East Turkestan on August 14, as well as a hardening of measures designed to manage Uyghur issues.
One of these measures, according to the Hong Kong-based Information Center for Human Rights and Democracy, was the deployment of around 200,000 public security officers and armed police to East Turkestan to “prevent terrorist attacks” in the post-Olympic period. News reports have indicated the implementation of intensified ideological campaigns throughout the region in subsequent months.
While PRC authorities claim the security measures are aimed at punishing individuals involved in the violent attacks that took place during the Olympics period, the scope of the crackdown represents a broad, far-reaching campaign of intimidation and fear aimed at the Uyghur community.
Security measures carried out in 2008 targeted large numbers of Uyghur civilians, including many not suspected of involvement in any crime, in contravention of both Chinese law and international law. Particularly in the period leading up to and during the Olympics, UHRP noted a widespread clampdown among Uyghurs and a corresponding rise in arrests and detentions. These included the arrests of more than 1,000 individuals in security sweeps in the cities of Kashgar and Kucha, and the arrest of 160 Uyghur children, aged 8 to 14 years old, for participating in “illegal religious activities”. Authorities also used the tactic of detaining family members and associates of alleged attackers in an attempt to bring in suspects.
Emerging evidence has undermined the basis for the PRC’s government’s repression in East Turkestan. Chinese government officials accused a number of Uyghurs of conducting the attacks in the Kashgar and Kucha areas, adding that the suspects had received substantial assistance from international terror groups. However, no evidence has ever been produced to support the allegations of international assistance in the attacks.
A September 29 New York Times article cast doubt on Chinese government claims about the deadliest of the attacks, in which 16 people reportedly died in Kashgar. Independent photographs suggest that events did not occur as the Chinese government claims. The photographs show men in police uniforms carrying out the attack against other policemen, casting doubt on Chinese government claims that a vegetable seller and a taxi driver were responsible.
In the first half of 2008, the PRC government issued a series of specific Olympics-related terrorism claims, without providing evidence to support its accusations. These included an alleged plot by a young Uyghur woman to blow up or crash an airplane on its way to Beijing on March 7, and the arrest of some 45 people in April on suspicion of planning to kidnap athletes and carry out suicide bomb attacks to sabotage the Olympics.
Since the events of September 11, 2001, PRC authorities have used the “war on terror” as a pretext for cracking down on religious and political dissent in the region. Tens of thousands of Uyghurs are believed to have been detained in the years since 2001, and hundreds are believed to have been executed. Individuals caught up in this campaign include Tohti Tunyaz, a PhD scholar who was released this week from prison after serving an 11-year sentence for conducting historical research in East Turkestan deemed subversive by government officials, and Nurmemet Yasin, a young Uyghur poet and intellectual who was imprisoned for writing an allegorical story that was viewed as separatist.
Uyghurs in East Turkestan suffer a broad scope of abuses to their civil, political, economic and social rights, including the fierce suppression of their religion, the use of the legal system as a tool of repression against Uyghurs who voice discontent with the government; PRC government support of the influx of huge numbers of Han Chinese economic migrants into East Turkestan; the forced transfer of young Uyghur women to work in poor conditions in eastern China; discrimination in hiring practices; unequal access healthcare services; and the elimination of Uyghur language schools under the current “bilingual education” policy.
“Bilingual” education in East Turkestan has evolved in an increasingly repressive political environment, as one aspect of a government-driven project to assimilate
Uyghurs by attacking and diluting their culture. It was conceived around the time of the founding of the post-Soviet Central Asian states in 1991, a turning point in the PRC’s view of East Turkestan, when the government began to become obsessed with “security” and “stability” in the region. Drives to expand “bilingual education have paralleled heightened campaigns to promote security and battle separatism. For instance, in 2004, the year in which a particularly harsh “strike hard, extreme pressure” campaign aimed at repressing “the three evils” of “separatism, extremism, and terrorism” resulted in the arrest of hundreds of Uyghurs, the rate at which “bilingual” education was eliminating Uyghur from East Turkestan’s schools increased dramatically.
A recent Xinhua news article described the policy as aiming “to encourage Xinjiang native teachers to teach both languages as a way to safeguard culture and promote the national standard.” According to Chinese government propaganda, “bilingual education” is being put into place throughout East Turkestan to improve educational and employment opportunities for Uyghur children. One of the major problems with this type of justification is that “bilingual education” is not “bilingual” at all, but rather monolingual. Another situation that challenges the Chinese government’s official assertions regarding its motivations of providing a truly bilingual education is the removal of Uyghur children from their cultural environment and their placement into Chinese-language “Xinjiang classes” located in 12 inland Chinese cities. This program has not been well-received among Uyghurs in East Turkestan, who view “Xinjiang classes” as an attempt to Sinify young Uyghurs, while there exists no parallel effort to educate young Han Chinese students in the Uyghur language and culture. A third challenge to the official portrayal of the “bilingual education” program lies in the relative lack of access to English-language instruction for Uyghur students at the high school and university level. Uyghur high school students who study at “minkaomin” schools (schools in which they receive Uyghur-language instruction) are not given any English-language instruction, while English-language instruction is widespread at “minkaohan” schools (schools in which courses are all taught in Chinese). Uyghur university students are required to study Chinese as their second language, and not English.
The “bilingual education” policy has been pursued for the past decade, but with increasing intensity since 2002. Past policies were more egalitarian and allowed Uyghur parents more of a choice in their children’s languages of instruction. Over the past seven years, government efforts at eliminating Uyghur language schools have accelerated dramatically, as compulsory Chinese language education has been expanded at every educational level and every township in East Turkestan. The ultimate goal of “bilingual” education appears to be to replace Uyghur language instruction with Chinese language instruction in all areas of East Turkestan, and to phase out the use of spoken Uyghur among the young Uyghur population.
Since 2002, with the exception of Uyghur languages and literature, classes at Xinjiang University have been taught solely in Chinese, virtually removing Uyghur as a language of instruction at the region’s most prestigious university. Local governments have committed to eliminating Uyghur language instruction, even in areas with large majority Uyghur populations. “Bilingual education” was implemented in high schools, middle schools and elementary schools, and in 2005, the “bilingual” education push was expanded into East Turkestan’s preschools.
At least one official newspaper reported that the number of students in “bilingual education classes” in East Turkestan grew from 5,533 students in 1995 to 294,000 in 2007, and the number of schools offering “bilingual classes” grew from 220 in 1995 to 8,788 in 2007. Official sources reported recently that within the next five years, the state would provide free training to 11,264 bilingual pre-school teachers, and within the next six years, the XUAR would recruit around 16,000 teachers to supplement the current pool of bilingual primary school teachers. Xinhua reported that since 2003, China has invested 130 million yuan, or 19 million U.S. dollars, to train bilingual teachers for elementary and high schools. Xinhua also reported that there were 18,000 “bilingual teachers”, 5,000 bilingual classes and 150,000 bilingual pupils in East Turkestan in 2008.
The bilingual teachers who are set to be trained in the next several years will almost certainly be drawn from the Han Chinese population, and many Uyghur teachers who cannot pass stringent language tests may be expected to lose their jobs. Many Uyghur teachers throughout East Turkestan have already been fired from their jobs, and many others have been forced to completely stop teaching their students in Uyghur and use only Chinese, even if all of the students are Uyghurs.
Remarks by Xinjiang Party Secretary Wang Lequan at the National Party Congress in March 2008 indicate that provincial authorities, with the support of the central government, plan to invest 3.7 billion yuan in order to implement “bilingual education” programs in 85% of the region’s kindergartens in the next three to five years.
As the Han population has increased, Han individuals have also received a greater share of the economic benefits from East Turkestan’s growth, including economic and employment opportunities not available to Uyghurs. While the Chinese government asserts that “bilingual education” will provide ethnic Uyghurs with the Mandarin language skills necessary to succeed in China’s competitive job market, many Uyghur graduates who are fluent in Mandarin Chinese report facing employment challenges due to rampant ethnic discrimination among employers. As one former Uyghur teacher recalled, when he traveled with his Chinese-speaking Uyghur students to job fairs, they observed signs flatly stating ‘we don’t want minority people’.
The program of the “Xinjiang classes” mentioned above was established in inland
Chinese cities in 1997. “Xinjiang classes” remove top minority students in East Turkestan from their cultural environment and enroll them in classes with Chinese language instruction in high schools in large inland Chinese cities. Parents of such students report being pressured into sending their children.
Official media have quoted Xinjiang Party Secretary Wang Lequan as saying that the chief goal of “Xinjiang classes” is “political thought training”, not academic preparation, and other government officials have described the program as a way to “deepen national feelings” and “strengthen correct political attitudes” as part of a “long term important strategic policy decision… to protect the unity of the motherland and safeguard the nation’s long and peaceful order”.
In some of these schools speaking Uyghur is prohibited, even in student dormitories, where pupils are watched by an on-site monitor. Children from one “Xinjiang class” in Qingdao were forbidden to communicate in Uyghur, even when visited by an officially approved ethnic Uyghur journalist. By 2006, “Xinjiang classes” had been expanded from 12 to 26 Chinese cities and had a total enrollment of over ten thousand students.
By forcing Uyghur children to study in a language other than their mother tongue, the PRC government is in clear violation of its own laws and agreements, including Article 4 of the PRC’s Constitution, Compulsory Education Law and Ethnic Regional Autonomy Law. The PRC is also a signatory to the International Covenant on
Civil and Political Rights and the Convention on the Rights of the Child, both of which guarantee minorities protection of their language rights. In addition, the PRC’s “bilingual education” policy, as it is being implemented, serves to increase tensions between Han Chinese and Uyghurs in East Turkestan.
The PRC should end its current policy of eliminating Uyghur language education from East Turkestan and, at a minimum, return to the policy of allowing for both Uyghur and Chinese language education systems. “Bilingual education” will work only if authorities support schools in which both Uyghur and Chinese are recognized as important regional languages and serious academic classes are offered in both languages. Government support of the Uyghur language would both improve ethnic relations and contribute to economic growth in East Turkestan. Many observers have noted that language issues play a large role in the ethnic tensions of the region. A commitment to Uyghur language on the part of the government would ultimately contribute to the goal of stability by easing an area of serious Uyghur discontent.
Uyghur American Association/Uyghur Human Rights Project