Government policy called for members of recognized minorities to receive preferential treatment in birth planning, university admission, access to loans, and employment. The substance and implementation of ethnic minority policies nonetheless remained poor, and discrimination against minorities remained widespread. The government “sinicization” campaign resulted in ethnically based restrictions on movement, including curtailed ability of ethnic Uighurs to travel freely or obtain travel documents; greater surveillance and presence of armed police in Xinjiang; and legislative restrictions on cultural and religious practices.
According to the most recent government census (in 2015), 9.5 million, or 40 percent, of the Xinjiang’s official residents were Han Chinese. Uighur, Hui, ethnic Kazakh, Kyrgyz, and other ethnic minorities constituted 14.1 million Xinjiang residents, or 60 percent of the total population. Official statistics understated the Han Chinese population because they did not count the more than 2.7 million Han residents on paramilitary compounds (bingtuan) and those who were long-term “temporary workers,” an increase of 1.2 percent over the previous year, according to a 2015 government of Xinjiang report.
The government’s policy to encourage Han Chinese migration into minority areas significantly increased the population of Han in Xinjiang. Han Chinese officials continued to hold the majority of the most powerful CCP and many government positions in minority autonomous regions, particularly Xinjiang. The rapid influx of Han Chinese into Xinjiang in recent decades has provoked Uighur resentment.
In 2017 the Xinjiang government also implemented new “Deradicalization Regulations,” codifying efforts to “contain and eradicate extremism,” according to Xinhua. The broad definition of extremism resulted in the reported detention since 2017 of more than one million Uighurs, ethnic Kazakhs, Kyrgyz, and other Muslims in “transformation through education” centers, or detention centers, designed to instill patriotism and erase their religious and ethnic identities. This included many of those ordered to return to China from studying or working abroad. International media reported security officials in the centers abused, tortured, and killed some detainees (see sections 1.a, 1.b, 1.c, 1.d, and 2.d.).
Officials in Xinjiang sustained efforts to crack down on the government-designated “three evil forces” of religious extremism, ethnic separatism, and violent terrorism, including by continuing the concentrated re-education campaign. Xinjiang Communist Party secretary Chen Quanguo, former Communist leader in the TAR, replicated in Xinjiang policies similar to those credited with reducing opposition to CCP rule in Tibet, increasing the security budget by more than 300 percent and advertising more than 90,800 security-related jobs. Authorities cited the 2016 Xinjiang guidelines for the implementation of the national Counterterrorism Law and a “people’s war on terrorism” in its increased surveillance efforts and enhanced restrictions on movement and ethnic and religious practices.
Outside the internment camps, the government implemented severe restrictions on expressions of minorities’ culture, language, and religious identity, including regulations prohibiting behaviors the government considered signs of “extremism” such as growing “abnormal” beards, wearing of veils in public places, and suddenly stopping smoking and drinking alcohol, among other behaviors. The regulations banned the use of some Islamic names when naming children and set punishments for the teaching of religion to children. Authorities conducted “household surveys” and “home stays” in which officials or volunteers forcibly lived in Uighurs’ homes and monitored families for signs of “extremism.” There were media reports that male officials would sleep in the same bed as the wives of men who were detained in internment camps, as part of the “Pair Up and Become Family” program, and also bring alcohol and pork for consumption during the home stay.
In October 2018 the Xinjiang government released new implementing regulations on “de-extremification.” Article 17 of the regulations states that county-level governments “may establish occupational skills education and training centers and other such education and transformation bodies and management departments to conduct education and transformation for persons influenced by extremism.” Some observers noted, despite this new regional law, the “re-education centers” were still illegal under the constitution.
Minority groups in border and other regions had less access to education than their Han Chinese counterparts, faced job discrimination in favor of Han Chinese migrants, and earned incomes well below those in other parts of the country. Government development programs and job provisions disrupted traditional living patterns of minority groups and in some cases included the forced relocation of persons and the forced settlement of nomads. Han Chinese benefited disproportionately from government programs and economic growth in minority areas. As part of its emphasis on building a “harmonious society” and maintaining social stability, the government downplayed racism and institutional discrimination against minorities and cracked down on peaceful expressions of ethnic culture and religion, which remained a source of deep resentment in Xinjiang, the Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region, the TAR, and other Tibetan areas.
The law states “schools (classes and grades) and other institutions of education where most of the students come from minority nationalities shall, whenever possible, use textbooks in their own languages and use their languages as the medium of instruction.” Despite provisions to ensure cultural and linguistic rights, measures requiring full instruction in Mandarin beginning in preschool and banning the use of Uighur in all educational activities and management were implemented throughout Xinjiang, according to international media.
Many of the security raids, arbitrary detentions, and judicial punishments appeared to target groups or individuals peacefully seeking to express their political or religious views. Detention and punishment extended to expression on the internet and social media, including the browsing, downloading, and transmitting of banned content. Officials continued to use the threat of violence as justification for extreme security measures directed at the local population, journalists, and visiting foreigners. According to Xinhua, officials used surveillance and facial recognition software, biodata collection, and big data technology to create a database of Uighurs in Xinjiang for the purpose of conducting “social-instability forecasting, prevention, and containment.” Security forces frequently staged large-scale parades involving thousands of armed police in cities across Xinjiang, according to state media.
Uighurs and other religious minorities continued to be sentenced to long prison terms and in some cases executed without due process on spurious charges of separatism and endangering state security. In 2016 and 2017, the Xinjiang regional government posted advertisements to recruit nearly 100,000 security personnel, international media reported.
The law criminalizes discussion of “separatism” on the internet and prohibits use of the internet in any way that undermines national unity. It further bans inciting ethnic separatism or “harming social stability” and requires internet service providers and network operators to set up monitoring systems to detect, report, and delete religious content or to strengthen existing systems and report violations of the law. Authorities searched cell phones at checkpoints and during random inspections of Uighur households, and persons in possession of alleged terrorist material, including pictures of general religious or cultural importance, could be arrested and charged with crimes. International media reported security officials at police checkpoints used a surveillance application to download and view content on mobile phones.
Ethnic Kazakhs were also targeted, RFA and other international media reported. In August 2018 Sayragul Sauytbay, an ethnic Kazakh Chinese citizen, testified in a Kazakhstan court that she was forced to work in a center where an estimated 2,500 ethnic Kazakhs were detained. She told the court she had to undergo “political indoctrination” at the camp. Kazakhs were also prevented from moving freely between China and neighboring Kazakhstan, and some were detained in internment camps upon their return to China.
The government pressured foreign countries to repatriate or deny visas to Uighurs who had left China and repatriated Uighurs faced the risk of imprisonment and mistreatment upon return. Some Uighurs who were forcibly repatriated disappeared after arriving in China. Family members of Uighurs studying overseas were also pressured to convince students to return to China, and returning students were detained or forced to attend re-education camps, according to overseas media. Overseas ethnic Uighurs, whether they were citizens of the PRC or their countries of residence, were sometimes pressured to provide information about the Uighur diaspora community to agents of the PRC government.
In July media reported a Uighur woman and her two daughters were given Tajik passports and deported against their will from Turkey to Tajikistan, where they were flown by PRC authorities to Urumqi, despite being legal residents of Turkey. In August a Uighur man fled his home in Pakistan to seek asylum in Europe because multiple other Pakistan-based Uighurs had been refouled back to China. He was refused in entry in Bosnia and sent to Qatar, where he faced refoulement back to China, before ultimately being granted entry to another country.
Freedom of assembly was severely limited during the year in Xinjiang. For information about abuse of religious freedom in Xinjiang, see the Department of State’s International Religious Freedom Report at https://www.state.gov/religiousfreedomreport/.
For specific information on Tibet, see the Tibet Annex.