Xinjiang village walled to control Uyghur movement
Authorities in northwest China’s Xinjiang region have completely walled off a village of 13,500 people in a bid to control their movement, subjecting them to 24-hour surveillance and restricting their access to a single gate each for residents and vehicles, according to security personnel.
The enclosure of Chuluqai village in Ili Kazakh Autonomous Prefecture’s Ghulja (in Chinese, Yining) county – roughly 650 kilometers (400 miles) west of Urumqi, the regional capital – is the latest attempt by authorities since the 2000s to surveil Uyghurs under the pretext of maintaining peace and security in the region, despite claims of widespread state-sponsored rights violations against the minority group.
In a recent visit to the area, a reporter with Agence France Presse documented the restricted freedom of rural residents within their communities, particularly in Kashgar (Kashi) prefecture’s Yarkand (Shache) county. While investigating the situation in Arslanbagh village, the reporter discovered that local authorities had been instructing residents to stay indoors and locking up homes in order to monitor and control their movements.
RFA Uyghur received a tip from an anonymous source who said that similar restrictions had been put in place in Ghulja and contacted county police for comment on the claims.
An officer who answered the phone said that she was newly hired and unclear about the policy of enclosed communities in the county – referred to officially as the “one village, one gate” campaign – but indicated that it was underway.
“I don’t know how many more villages are left to be enclosed,” said the officer who, like others RFA contacted for this report, declined to be named because she had been instructed not to speak with the media.
The officer referred additional questions to the county government.
A further investigation revealed that authorities in Ghulja’s Chuluqai village had implemented similar measures there since 2017, walling off the area and requiring residents to enter and exit through a single checkpoint.
Electrified gate, barbed wire fence
RFA spoke with a security guard who said that he is one of two people on duty at the village gate during the day and one of five on duty throughout the night.
“The gate is an electrified iron gate and it’s surrounded by two-meter (6.5-foot) walls with barbed wires,” he said. “It encloses every part of Chuluqai, and you can only enter and exit through this single gate.”
The guard said that there is a separate, larger gate for vehicles to enter the village.
“We check and record where the car is from, whether it belongs to an individual or an organization, or if it’s from a different city,” he said. “Pedestrians walk through a separate door, and we record their names.”
According to the guard, the checkpoint allows authorities to “determine where individuals are coming from and whether any of their family members have been arrested.”
“The police officers will conduct the checks and decide whether they can enter or not,” he said.
‘In every county’
The one village, one gate campaign is being implemented “in every county,” he added, citing official communications he was privy to on his radio.
The guard said he had personally observed a similar situation in the Ghulja villages of Ewlia, Üchon, and Mollatoxtiyuzi.
The construction of walls around communities in the Xinjiang region – commonly referred to by officials as “building new villages” or “transforming neighborhood appearances” – is designed to limit the freedom of movement of residents, rights groups say.
China has come under harsh international criticism for its severe rights abuses against the predominantly Muslim Uyghurs. The U.S. government and several Western parliaments have declared that the abuses amount to genocide or crimes against humanity.
Alleged atrocities against the Uyghurs have included detention in “re-education” camps and prisons, torture, sexual assaults and forced labor.
Ilshat Hasan, a U.S.-based political commentator who spent his childhood in Chuluqai, said that people could freely enter and exit the village during his time there.
“The Uyghurs where I grew up never experienced such oppression, where they are required to provide their names and show their IDs just to enter the village,” he said.
Hasan said that enclosing an entire community and restricting its members to using a single gate “implies that the population has been reduced” and called for an independent investigation.
Keeping foreigners out
China has regularly responded to criticism of its treatment of Uyghurs in Xinjiang by inviting foreign journalists to visit the region and observe the situation for themselves.
However, the security guard RFA spoke with in Chuluqai said that “foreigners are not allowed to enter the village” and that no foreign reporter had been able to access the area “in the past six years.”
“If a foreigner inquires about a specific person [in the village] or says there is an issue, we tell them not to interfere with the law, as our government and legal system are fair,” he said.
The guard’s comments appeared to imply that the walling-off of villages in Ghulja is as much about keeping the international community in the dark about the situation there as it is about restricting the movement of residents.
Allegations of abuses have led to high profile visits to Xinjiang by U.N. observers in recent months, including former U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet in May 2022 and a delegation from the U.N.’s International Labor Organization in August this year.
When Bachelet visited Xinjiang last year, Chinese officials did not permit her to visit labor camps or hold open discussions with Uyghurs facing discrimination and threats, prompting criticism from the international rights community.
In August 2022, Bachelet’s office released a damning report on Xinjiang, concluding that serious human rights violations had been committed in the context of Chinese counter-terrorism and counter-extremism strategies, and that China’s detention of Uyghurs and other Turkic minorities in the region may constitute crimes against humanity.
Last month’s low-profile visit by the ILO delegation was slammed by rights groups who said it should have consulted with them beforehand and expressed concern it would help China conceal its crimes in Xinjiang.
— RFA report, Sept 19, 2023
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