Authorities continue to harass Han shop and restaurant owners, demanding mandatory participation in “anti-terrorism” measures that target their Muslim compatriots.
by Chang Xin
In March, China’s State Council Information Office published a white paper entitled The Fight Against Terrorism and Extremism and Human Rights Protection in Xinjiang. In presenting the achievements in suppressing the local Muslim people, branded as terrorists just because of their ethnicity and religion, the paper states that the battle against terrorism and extremism has achieved significant interim results and ensured the basic rights of all ethnic groups in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region. “The ethnic groups of Xinjiang now enjoy closer relations through communication, exchange and blending. People have a much stronger sense of fulfillment, happiness and security,” the document boasts.
In reality, the “fulfilling and happy” life for Xinjiang residents means nearly 3 million Muslims sent to transformation through education camps, as per some calculations, while the children of the detained are locked up in institutions where they are forced to abandon their culture, language, and ethnic identity through “hanification” and ideological indoctrination. Those that are still free lead their daily lives under ubiquitous surveillance, having to scan their faces even to enter their homes and are watched over by their Han neighbors and business owners who, in turn, are required to purchase riot-control gear and are forced to participate in “counter-terrorism” drills and patrolling raids. If they refuse or are not zealous enough, their businesses are harassed, and they face severe consequences. All in the name of social stability, the Chinese authorities claim.
As Bitter Winter has reported on many occasions, the “people’s war on terror,” when ordinary citizens are mobilized into mutual surveillance and control, has caused unease and tensions, contrary to the official CCP proclamations.
According to a Han Chinese woman who runs a restaurant with her family in Xinjiang, the requirements for businesses in the name of anti-terrorism are continually growing. She said that since recently, she was required to hire a security guard for her restaurant: somebody aged between 20 to 45 and equipped with anti-riot gear. The cost of hiring such a person is approximately 4,000 RMB (about $ 600) per month. For a small business, this is a major expense, not affordable to everyone. As an alternative – owners can perform the function of security guards themselves. So, the woman now cooks and performs other tasks in her restaurant while wearing a bulletproof vest and a helmet.
“The vest and helmet are very heavy, wearing them makes me feel hot,” the woman explains. “When cooking in the kitchen, my clothes often get sweaty on my back. It is very uncomfortable and hard to work. My shoulders also get sore from the weight; it’s very tiring.”
The woman is afraid of the consequences of not wearing the required outfit because of frequent inspections. She worries that she might lose her business if she doesn’t comply with the government’s requirements.
Previously, she has been ordered on two occasions to close the restaurant because she didn’t wear the anti-terrorism outfit. Both times, the restaurant was closed for three days, resulting in losses of nearly 6,000 RMB (about $ 900). Not only that, but she also had to go to the local community office to participate in three days of “anti-terrorism” studies. “I was required to copy the Anti-Terrorism Law, which is 26 pages long. It took me two days to finish copying it,” the restaurant owner explained. “Running a small business isn’t easy now. One needs to endure a lot in Xinjiang to make a living.”
According to the woman, business owners are now also required to install an application on their mobile phones that notifies them with an alarm sound whenever authorities are convening anti-terrorism drills, or they are required to go on patrolling duty. The participation is mandatory – those who dare to refuse, face the closure of their businesses and time in “study classes.”
“Whenever we hear the alarm, we must get to the designated location within two minutes, or face the consequences such as the closure of business,” said the restaurant owner. The woman explained that while on patrol, they must look for potential “terrorists.” If they encounter any suspects, the only way is to act – they are not allowed to retreat or wait for reinforcement.
“If we flee in the face of danger or adopt a wait-and-see attitude, we will be arrested and detained ourselves,” the woman explained angrily. “The police are supposed to protect people’s safety. If all of us ordinary people step forward, then why do we need the police?” However, because of the harsh penalties and frequent visits by the police, she has no choice but to obey the requirements, no matter how unreasonable they are.
Some shop owners were unable to endure such high-pressure control and left Xinjiang, unconvinced about the “fulfilling and happy” life in the region that has been turned into the largest prison on earth.