The distance between Xinjiang Province, home to China’s Muslim minority Uighur community, and the battlefields of Syria is more than just a stretch of the imagination. But as Pulitzer Center grantee Richard Bernstein reports in a timely dispatch for The New York Review of Books, Chinese authorities are insisting that more than 200 Uighurs—many of them women and children—arrested by Thai authorities in March were on their way to wage jihad in Syria.
More likely, says Richard, the Uighurs are fleeing well-documented Chinese repression in Xinjiang. “They are like other refugees in this sense, but with one major difference. The Uighurs arriving in southeast Asia have triggered a tense, mostly behind-the-scenes tug of war between China, which is pressuring Thailand to send the Uighurs back, and the West, including the United States, which has entreated the Thais to reject China’s demand, arguing that giving in to it would subject the Uighurs to savage mistreatment.”
Thailand, a close U.S. ally but a close-by neighbor of China, is in a tight spot. According to Richard, “a sort of compromise is likely: as a gesture to its big and powerful neighbor, Thailand may agree to repatriate a few of the Uighurs, while allowing most of them to move on to Turkey,” a nation that has agreed to grant them asylum.
China’s anti-terror campaign coincides with the detention and life sentence for “separatism” of Ilham Tohti, a Uyghur scholar who does not advocate Xinjiang’s secession from China.
In an interview with Ian Johnson for The New York Review of Books, scholar Wang Lixiong predicted that clearing out the ideological middle ground might be precisely the authorities’ goal: “The only conclusion is dark: it’s that they don’t want moderate Uighurs. Because if you have moderate Uighurs, then why aren’t you talking to them? So they wanted to get rid of him and then you can say to the West that there are no moderates and we’re fighting terrorists.”
Read more about China’s escalating war on terror at China Digital Times.
An Urumqi court passed an unexpectedly heavy sentence of life imprisonment for separatism on Uyghur scholar Ilham Tohti, even though he has long opposed Xinjiang independence.
The state news agency Xinhua offers more details of Ilham Tohti’s alleged crimes, including the accusation that he “bewitched and coerced young ethnic students to work for the website [Uighur Online] and built a criminal syndicate.” Seven of his students have also been detained and are likely to face trial.
Image: Ilham Is Innocent, by Badiucao for China Digital Times
Ilham Tohti was detained by police from his Beijing home in January, and formally charged with separatism in July. The Uyghur academic had long urged a peaceful inter-ethnic dialogue to mitigate violent conflict in the restive Xinjiang region.
In the lead up to the trial, Ilham Tohti had reportedly been shackled, denied food, had photographs and clothing sent by his family withheld, and monitored and verbally abused by Han prisoners.
Peace on Trial, by Badiucao for China Digital Times
Lawyers for Ilham Tohti said the prominent Uyghur scholar was chained with leg irons and denied access to food and warm clothes while detained. The verdict is due next week.
Media were not allowed in the court room, but Ilham Tohti’s lawyer, Li Fangping, told reporters that the defendant spoke to the court for 90 minutes and vehemently denied the charges against him. Read on.
The separatism trial of Uyghur scholar Ilham Tohti began in Urumqi on Wednesday. Beside being shackled and denied food, Tohti has reportedly not received photographs or warm clothes sent by his family, while specially relocated Han prisoners have been monitoring him on behalf of the authorities, verbally abusing him and in one case starting a fight. Read on.
Photo of the Day: Skyline of Urumqi by SiZhe Hu
China’s state media announced that eight people were executed in Xinjiang over the weekend for involvement in the jeep crash that killed five near Tiananmen Square in October of last year. These executions are the latest in Beijing’s ongoing “people’s war” against terrorism, launched after an upswing of violent attacks have been blamed by central authorities on separatists and religious extremists from the western region of Xinjiang, home to the ethnically distinct and primarily Muslim Uyghur minority. Launched in May, the terror crackdown has seen mass public sentencing rallies, a crackdown on “violent Internet content,” the launch of a cash rewards programs for those who aid in tracking down alleged terrorists, and in some areas restrictions on cultural and religious practices such as Ramadan fasting, and the wearing of burkas or facial hair.
Photo of the Day: Fading With Time by Baron Reznik (taken in the Forbidden City, Beijing)
Antitrust probes alarm Microsoft and other foreign firms in China, 25 people are sentenced in Xinjiang for terrorist activity, and cadres have “viewing parties” for the new TV drama Deng Xiaoping in History’s Crossroads. This and more, today at China Digital Times.
Photo of the Day: HK is like this…. by Roger Price (taken in Hong Kong)
Last Thursday, Chinese authorities released prominent human rights lawyer Gao Zhisheng from a prison in Xinjiang after he was held there for almost three years for “inciting subversion of state power.” Gao, who is known for handling politically sensitive cases on behalf of clients such as underground Christians and Falun Gong practitioners, has been repeatedly detained and mistreated since 2005. Many fear that he will continue to be denied freedom outside prison.
Free Gao Zhisheng, by @badiucao