Although they are not technically living in prison, the built environment and the government regulations remind the Muslims: We think you are a threat.
The checkout counter at a supermarket in central Xinjiang is surrounded by iron railings, like a cage. The local government has made it mandatory for all medium-sized or larger supermarkets to install iron guardrails around the checkout counter to prevent terrorism.
Besides, supermarkets are required to have various anti-terrorism equipment, including detectors for body searches, helmets, stab-resistant clothing, shields, and large batons. Any store that does not purchase the above items or does not install guardrails will be immediately closed, and the proprietor will be forcibly taken away to “study,” meaning, transformation through education camps.
A shoe store in the same region has a one-button alarm system that is covered in a layer of dust. Obviously, the alarm has not come in handy, but the government still demands that every shop-owner install it.
According to the shopkeeper, when a suspected terrorist appears, proprietors are supposed to sound the alarm. The people that the government regards as “suspicious” include Muslim men who grow a long beard or women in a black Abaya – a robe-like dress – as well as people who wear the crescent moon and star symbol.
Ethnic minority Muslims who live away from home in rented housing are regarded as a more dangerous group than others. Under this theory, some rental houses in the central-eastern part of Xinjiang were told to install surveillance cameras.
According to local residents, if landlords discover tenants holding religious activities in a rented house or see any suspicious person going in or out of it, they can use “the one-button alarm” to alert the police.
A further reminder of the government’s suspicions is the “luxury” security door, which looks mismatched for most simple rental houses. The people here told Bitter Winter that buying a security door is mandated by the government. If they do not purchase and install it, they will be sent away to “study.”
On the door of a rented house, there hangs an official notice – the “rental housing service card” – with requirements: Rental houses must be equipped with a one-button alarm, water tank, and surveillance camera; the surveillance contents must be stored for at least 90 days; if there is a new tenant, the change must be reported to the police affairs office in the community within three hours, and the tenant must promptly apply for a residence permit; the landlord must monitor tenants to make sure they do not engage in violence- or terrorism-related behavior or illegal religious activity.
These and other measures are constantly exerting pressure on Muslims living in Xinjiang. “I feel that I’m being treated like a terrorist,” one ethnic Hui Muslim told Bitter Winter.
A Hui woman added, “This feeling permeates every aspect of the lives of Muslims.” Last year, the factory where she works demanded that every minority Muslim sign a “statement of commitment.” Ethnic Han workers did not need to sign it.
This “statement of commitment” contains a total of 16 provisions, like: Do not propagate terrorism or extremism, or incite others to carry out terrorist activities; do not use intimidation, harassment, or other methods to drive people of different ethnic minorities or religious faith away from their place of residence, to interfere with their lives, their living habits, lifestyle and their dealings with people of other ethnicities or religious faith; do not practice namāz [an Islamic form of prayer] in production workshops, dormitories, or rental houses; and so on.
“Ironically, the government demands that we not interfere in the beliefs of others, but doesn’t allow us to pray in our dormitory,” the woman said. “Who is interfering with whom after all?”
Being treated as terrorists, local Muslims are constantly worried that they will make a mistake and be taken away.
“All we can do is continue believing in secret,” the woman added sadly.
However, even believing in one’s heart is not allowed. Last May, the factory where this woman is employed demanded that everyone attended events called “Speak up and show your sword” (the special name for the oath-swearing event that is extensively held in Xinjiang, where people are required to swear an oath to follow the Communist Party and not believe in any religion). At these events, employees are required to swear allegiance: “I only believe in the Communist Party. I will obey the Party. I will follow the Communist Party forever. I do not have any [religious] beliefs.”
To a certain extent, swearing this oath can reduce one’s likelihood of being suspected. Those who do not swear the oath will be detained in a “transformation through education” camp or will lose their job.
In the end, the woman Bitter Winter interviewed decided to swear the oath, even though doing so was utterly contrary to her faith. However, at least for now, she will not be regarded as a terrorist and taken away.
Reported by Li Benbo