Xinjiang regulations imposed in the name of social stability harm businesses, and can be used to persecute merchants arbitrarily.
As Bitter Winter has reported, authorities in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region are imposing ever-greater burdens on the lives of citizens and business owners in the name of enforcing “social stability maintenance policies.” Proprietors are being fined, arrested, or having their shops closed for a variety of technical violations of new regulations that most find excessive.
Some of the burdens placed on businesses include requirements to buy riot-control gear (such as helmets and bullet-proof vests), install alarms and surveillance cameras at their homes and businesses, and organize into social stability squads ready to deploy when alarms sound. However, Xinjiang authorities now seem to be using these regulations to harass merchants who voice dissent or don’t conform to the government’s demands.
Numerous reports of seemingly arbitrary harassment of businesses have reached Bitter Winter. In August, for example, a hotel proprietor from the Bayingolin Mongol Autonomous Prefecture was fined 2,000 RMB (about $285) and detained in a “transformation through education camp” for a week, for allegedly “failing to turn on a security scanner and violating the government’s social stability maintenance policies.” The hotel owner was also forced to pay for his daily living expenses, lodging expenses and transportation during his detention, totaling 620 RMB (about $89).
The Xinjiang authorities have ordered all shopping malls, supermarkets, hotels, and similar businesses to install security scanners. Proprietors are not allowed to turn off the machines during business hours, and violators face fines, closing of businesses, and detention in transformation through education camps. They are also supposed to dress to be prepared for a riot, apparently on the assumption that Muslims could be on the verge of revolt at any time and merchants must be ready to “maintain social stability” in case of such a revolt.
One restauranteur failed to be ready for such an imagined revolt, and paid the price. Local authorities raided his establishment and discovered that the cooks in the kitchen were not wearing bullet-proof vests. The owner of the restaurant was arrested for “violating social stability maintenance policies.” They detained him in a transformation through education camp for two weeks. He, too, had to pay for all of his living and travel expenses during his detention. On the same day, a female clothing merchant was caught not wearing a bullet-proof vest. When discovered by police, an investigator shouted at her, “Go home! Close down your shop for three days!” She was accused of “violating social stability maintenance duties,” and indeed was forced to close her shop for three days.
A certain Mr. Liu (a pseudonym), the owner of a shopping mall, failed to comply with other anti-riot or anti-terror regulations. He was ordered to install anti-vehicle sidewalk barriers in front of his building. Mr. Liu responded to the police that he had been in business for many years, and had never encountered any situation he would consider “unsafe.” Police immediately forced Mr. Liu into handcuffs, and took him into custody for seven days. He was forbidden to contact anyone during his detention, leaving his family to ponder his fate. After his release, and fearing further police action, Mr. Liu spent over 80,000 RMB (about $11,400) to install anti-vehicle sidewalk barriers.
One street in Kashgar city seems to have come under special scrutiny from authorities. According to reports from locals, on Xiyu Avenue alone, several shops have been shuttered for a variety of reasons.
In December of 2017, a delivery truck was parked at the entrance of a tobacco and liquor store preparing to unload its cargo. Police arrived and ordered the driver to move the truck immediately. The proprietor of the shop requested that police give them a few more minutes to finish unloading, but the police insisted. The owner of the business complained, “You never take care of the important issues, and you’re obsessed with things that don’t matter at all. We’re not even blocking the road.” In response, police charged him with “refusing to cooperate with police operations and having a bad attitude,” and forced the shop to close.
Another shop on Xiyu Avenue was closed because police discovered two electric rice cookers inside. The owner of the shop says that the cookers were old, and hadn’t been used in a very long time. Without any evidence of use, however, and without listening to the owner’s explanation, police shut down the store on the grounds that “cooking in the shop is prohibited.” Three days later, the owner of the shop wrote a letter of guarantee, promising he would never allow cooking in his store, and delivered it to the local police outpost. Only then was he allowed to continue business as usual.
A third business on the same Avenue, Three Brothers Golden Chicken Gourmet Food, was ordered to close because the owner didn’t immediately rush to attend anti-riot drills when an alarm sounded. Yet another business, Smart Housewife’s Noodles, didn’t keep its kitchen knives on chains, as the anti-riot and anti-terrorism regulations mandate. As a result, the police threatened to fine and shut down the restaurant.
Since 2017, the city of Kashgar in Xinjiang has built approximately 300 police outposts on its streets, and there is one such outpost roughly every 300 meters. At each outpost, about 10 officers work alternating shifts. The police from the outposts inspect all business operations meticulously. Merchants are frequently shut down and fined without clear reasons given. As a result, local business proprietors are scared, and growing discontent is being voiced, albeit quietly.
Reported by Li Zaili