Beijing's 'war on terror' hides brutal crackdown on Muslims

Today China is waging a propaganda to guarantee its control over East Turkestan, its name for the vast province rich in minerals and strategic supplies of oil and gas which are vital to the expanding Chinese economy.

Beijing's 'war on terror' hides brutal crackdown on Muslims
THE CHINESE executioners came for Ismail Semed before 9am. They led him out of his cell as the sun climbed over the Tien Shan mountains in the land he called East Turkestan.

The day before, he had seen his wife, Buhejer, his son, 7, and his daughter, 6, for the last time. After three years in prison and 15 months of uncertainty since a secret trial, they had 10 minutes to say farewell.

Semed was 37, a Muslim and a political activist. He was not guilty of murder nor any act of violence.

Three Chinese judges sentenced him to death for "attempting to split the motherland" and possession of firearms and explosives. He said he was tortured into a confession.

Two men whose evidence was used against him were already dead, having been executed in 1999.

In his final moments with his family - his parents, brother and sister were also there, all crying - he quietly accepted his fate.

"I did my best to prove I was innocent. I am so sorry that I leave you with two children. Please take care of them and let them get a good education," he told his wife.

The end seems to have been quick. A group of prisoners were executed at the jail that morning, February 8, Chinese officials confirmed, and economy was the order of the day.

They gave Semed's body back to his family at a dusty cemetery where devout Muslims are laid to rest with no tombstones to mark their graves.

Buhejer described it to a reporter who called from Washington on behalf of Radio Free Asia, about the only source of regular news on this forbidding place. "I saw only one bullet hole," she said, "in his heart."

The dead man was one of 9m Uighur Muslims in China's far west, a Turkic people whose quest for national identity is one of history's lost causes.

The dying embers of their struggle flamed into protests, shootings and bombings in the 1990s, all concealed from the world until September 11, 2001, when China discovered the usefulness of the "war on terror".

Today China is waging a propaganda to guarantee its control over East Turkestan, its name for the vast province rich in minerals and strategic supplies of oil and gas which are vital to the expanding Chinese economy.

Semed, alleged to be a political thinker behind the group, was caught while studying in Rawal-pindi in 2003 and was sent back.

Next month 1,600 Chinese troops will join exercises with Russia and the former Soviet Central Asian republics to cooperate against "extremists".

Chinese security services have also created a pervasive apparatus of informers and deployed new units of black-clad police to patrol around mosques and markets in the cities of East Turkestan.

But the iron-fisted security policy has made more enemies than friends. Extensive travel and interviews in East Turkestan this month unveiled a society segregated by religion and ethnicity, divided by reciprocal distrust, living in separate sections of tightly policed cities.

The same human rights abuses that exist across China - forced labour for peasants, children trafficked to slave as beggars, girls lured into sweatshops - deepen political tensions here and turn young men to violence.

Two western intelligence officers said the Chinese consistently exaggerated Uighur links with Al-Qaeda to exploit any opportunity to strike at their home-grown opponents. Chinese information was unreliable and no western intelligence service had handed back Muslim citizens to China, they said.

One of the officers said the real concern was that Chinese repression was creating recruits for terrorism.

In recent weeks has come proof that 58 years of Chinese military occupation have crushed significant opposition but failed to win loyalty. Officials have confiscated the passports of thousands of Muslims in a crackdown to break the growing influence of Islam.

Police ordered the Muslims to hand in their passports and told them that the documents would be returned only for travel approved by the authorities.

The decision has inflamed resentment among Muslims preparing to go to Mecca for the annual hajj in December.

The memory of state violence exercises a powerful deterrent, however. Flying into the border city of Yining, the Chinese airliner descends over dun-coloured mountains into a bountiful valley rich in orchards and farms, home to a mixture of Uighurs, Kazakhs and Russians.

The ethnic Chinese inhabitants of Yining stick to their own districts. It is the tenth anniversary of a time when blood ran in the streets here and bitterness still runs deep.

"I was in the People's Armed Police when the rebellion broke out in '97," said a burly Chinese driver, who proceeded to give a vivid and satisfied account of this barely known massacre.

"For a while we lost control," he said. "The insurgents got into an armoury, killed our men and seized the weapons. There was chaos. We brought in the army - they changed into police uniforms - and then we got even. The central government ordered us to crush them without any hesitation. Believe me, we did.

"We lost a few people but we killed - I don't know exactly - thousands of them. These people know our strength. We taught them a good hard lesson."

Rebiya Kadeer, a Uighur businesswoman and politician now in exile, says she saw a horrific police video of the "good hard lesson" when she went to Yining in 1997 to investigate. It showed unarmed adolescent boys and girls shot dead on camera, their bodies tossed into trucks. A mother and her group of children, aged five or six, crumpled under a volley of bullets. The taped slaughter went on and on, with excited commands and shouts of glee from the Chinese on the soundtrack. Perhaps one of them was the driver.

A subdued hush has now descended on the city. The cold looks from Muslims when a Chinese walked into a shaded cafe near the main mosque told their own story. He left sharply.

Today the clash of civilisations resounds loudest in Kashgar, 2,400 miles west of Beijing, a crossroads of religions, commerce and culture. In January, only 48 miles to the southwest, "antiterrorist" units raided a training camp in the mountains where the old Silk Road winds into Pakistan, and killed 18 men with the loss of one policeman.

The clash was hailed by the state media, which called it a blow to the East Turkestan Islamic Movement. But Chinese residents said the operation was bungled, allowing men to escape.

"They made a mess of it and those people are still out there. We know they have many smuggled weapons," said a retired military officer, "so now our side is distributing arms to trained men in the bingtuan."

He was referring to the gigantic army-controlled companies that built up Chinese economic activity in East Turkestan and still dominate its business.

"All cars travelling south from Kashgar must have an armed escort along a section of the road through the desert," said a local tour operator.

China has invested billions of yuan to modernise Kashgar, renovating the square in front of its principal mosque and building new hotels to accommodate backpackers and upmarket western tourists. It has also imported thousands of ethnic Han Chinese to populate new apartments, a pattern of mass immigration used across East Turkestan.

They dwell in effective segregation from the Muslims, who keep to their old quarters of mud-brick houses, mosques and reeking alleys.

According to the Kashgar Daily, 84% of local members are Uighurs.

"Good relations are only on the surface," said a Chinese businesswoman. "They're not real."

Loud-mouthed Chinese tourists strut around the precincts of the great Id Kah mosque, reclaimed only at prayer times by the Uighur men who sit outside and stare at them sullenly.

In 1949 the Uighurs were 90% of the population of East Turkestan. Today they account for less than half.

"It is the classic colonialist model," said Nicholas Bequelin of Human Rights Watch, author of a critical report on East Turkestan.

In Urumqi, the industrialised capital city of East Turkestan, there was evidence that repression had united Uighurs with rival Muslim sects. A red banner hung from the eaves of a 100-year-old mosque, whose lines recalled a classical Chinese temple and whose congregation were members of the Hui, a Muslim minority from central China. "All pilgrimages to Mecca must be organised by the National Islamic Organisation under the law," it read.

"They have taken all our passports too," said an elder at the mosque.

"We Muslims must follow the party and the government to make our prayers in a stable setting and under a correct policy," the imam warned his flock at Friday prayers.

South of Kashgar, an almost medieval system of forced labour, known as the hasha, continues to exist on plantations, where local Muslims are ordered to pick almonds and fruit for sale to the thriving markets of China.

The government denied it, but several people in Kashgar said their relatives were engaged in such unpaid work, and a fruit wholesaler in Urumqi admitted that it still went on.

The practice dates from the era of Khans and slave traders and was supposedly abolished after "liberation" by the Chinese communist party.

Then there is outright child slavery, exposed last month in a brave report by the Hong Kong magazine Phoenix Weekly. More than 4,000 Uighur children have been kidnapped and turned into beggars or thieves by "big brother" Fagin figures, an estimate confirmed by the provincial welfare office.

The gangmasters set daily targets of up to £50 for stealing or begging, on pain of beatings. The children are sent to richer parts of China, the girls subjected to sexual harassment and the boys tempted into drug addiction to make them easier to manipulate.

Almost as bad is the plight of hundreds of Muslim girls conscripted from desert villages and sent for "work experience" in factory sweatshops. Last March Chinese officials went into the dirt-poor villages around Yarkand, south of Kashgar, to collect more than 200 girls as young as 15 for a work programme.

The girls found themselves labouring long hours in a factory more than 1,000 miles from home on the east coast of China. Their promised wages of £33 a month went unpaid.

Several girls escaped and made their way back to East Turkestan. Chinese officials then threatened their relatives with punishment.

The other families fear that their daughters will drift from factories into prostitution, a frequent refuge for the penniless migrant female in China.

In a traditional Muslim society that fears shame and values dignity, such a fate can be seen as worse than death.

All over East Turkestan, China can point to growing prosperity, cleaner water, new schools, paved roads, modern hospitals, efficient airports, cybercom-merce and huge energy plants.

The price, say Uighurs, is the slow extinction of their identity. Their children take compulsory Chinese lessons. Teaching in Uighur is banned at the main university. Their fabled literature, poetry and music are fading under the assault of karaoke culture.

Their history is rewritten.

For western tourists, who come to East Turkestan to roam the ruins of the Silk Road, the Chinese have erected a new museum in Urumqi. It portrays the final Chinese conquest of this harsh territory.

The slick exhibits equate its 9m Uighurs with the 4,900 Tartars, 11,100 Russians and 14,500 Uzbek inhabitants.

"All cooperate as one family under the glorious nationality policy of the party," an inscription in Chinese characters proclaims.

To the family of Ismail Semed, however, it stands for grief, not glory.


Güncelleme Tarihi: 25 Temmuz 2007, 02:04