From mandatory software on mobile phones to arrests for taking photos: visiting workers are prevented from sharing what is really happening in the Uyghur region.
The Chinese authorities are enticing Han people from outside Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region to relocate there, promising generous compensations. But the harsh reality of prison-like conditions is hard to handle even for temporary workers. Strictly controlled and monitored, their only solace is that they can always go back to their homes in other parts of China where life is less stifling.
A few people that have recently returned from working in various areas of Xinjiang shared with Bitter Winter what they saw and felt living alongside local Muslims in this militarized land of uncertainty and fear.
Crossing the border: obligatory software on phones and thorough search
All interviewed people said that they had to go through complex security procedures to get to Xinjiang. One of the things that security guards do is uniformly install on each person’s mobile phone software that provides detailed regulations to be followed while in the region. The first requirement is that people must register with the local police.
“I asked whether the installed software had a geolocation feature. The police yelled at me, ‘Stop talking nonsense. If you talk nonsense, you will be locked up!’” one of the interviewed women said. “The software is uninstalled from mobile phones when leaving Xinjiang, to prevent people in other regions from learning what exactly is happening in Xinjiang.”
The workers expressed their downright disgust with such ubiquitous and rigorous inspections in Xinjiang.
“Every time I arrive at a security checkpoint, I have to undergo an inspection. The vehicle’s hood and trunk are opened and inspected. The police practically wrecked my car by rummaging through it,” complained one worker. “There are also restrictions when filling up one’s car with gas. Your ID card needs to be checked, your eyes need to be scanned, and you have to be photographed, and the photo is correlated and verified. An office has been set up in each village, and we must register whenever entering or leaving. Even when one goes to buy a pack of cigarettes, the ID card still needs to be checked.”
Daily life: heavily armed police and fear of being detained
According to a woman who used to work in Yarkant county administered by the prefecture of Kashgar, she frequently heard police sirens reverberating all around. The streets were lined with police officers armed with submachine guns. There were also some militia teams in helmets carrying iron rods. The woman said that on the streets, public security officers outnumber pedestrians.
“Living in Xinjiang is just like being imprisoned. I just want to finish my work and leave there as quickly as possible,” lamented one worker.
“In Xinjiang, one could be arrested even for being slightly careless. As a result, many workers who go to Xinjiang are unwilling to stay there,” said a laborer who once worked in Xinjiang’s capital Urumqi. “To entice Han Chinese from other areas to stay in Xinjiang, the government has devised a relatively generous policy. For example, as long as a Han person agrees to settle down in Xinjiang and marry an Uyghur woman, the government will give them a house as well as a few tens of thousands of yuan. But still, many people have left Xinjiang out of fear of being locked up in re-education camps.”
“Xinjiang is like a huge prison,” the man continued with emotion. “In Xinjiang, people don’t dare to ask or say anything. If you ask, it will mean bad luck for you. And if you’re arrested, no one knows how long you will be locked up for. [You should] return [home] as soon as you have finished your work.”
Uyghurs suppressed, visitors threatened not to talk about this
A worker who just returned from southern Xinjiang said that Uyghur discrimination in Xinjiang is particularly severe. “For example, when Han Chinese and Uyghurs get into a physical altercation, regardless of whether the Uyghur is right, both of them will be dragged to the police station and beaten. If an Uyghur is even slightly careless, he will be locked up in a re-education camp. The reason that the government creates such an atmosphere is to punish and suppress Uyghurs.”
The worker revealed that some Uyghurs are required to report to the police station regularly; as soon as they receive a phone call from the police summoning them to the station, no matter what they are doing at the time, they have to put all of their work down and rush over immediately. If they are even a few minutes late, they will be regarded as having “disobeyed the management” and face the risk of being locked up in a transformation through education camp at any time.
“As workers, we can leave anytime we want. However, this isn’t the case for local ethnic minorities. Things are really miserable for them,” he said emotionally.
Those who come to Xinjiang are shocked and disturbed by the treatment of Uyghur Muslims. Many have also reported that the authorities are taking strict measures to prevent information about the realities of Xinjiang to spread outside. One of the interviewed workers recounted a story when he was arrested just for taking photos.
“People aren’t allowed to take photos in Xinjiang, or else they will be treated as ‘leakers’ and arrested,” the man told Bitter Winter. On his first visit to Xinjiang, he noticed that every Monday, all locals in the village where he stayed were required to attend a flag-raising ceremony. He decided to take some photos hoping to share them with his family. To his surprise, he was arrested on the spot.
“The police locked me up. They repeatedly looked through my mobile phone to make sure that it didn’t contain any remarks opposing the Communist Party; only then was I released. If they found even one sentence unfavorable to the Communist Party, I would be detained for three months to three years,” he said.
The Chinese authorities are disguising the persecution and mistreatment of Xinjiang Muslims as counter-terrorism measures for “maintaining stability” and have locked up more than a million innocent people for indoctrination in transformation through education camps. Those who are still free live in a daily nightmare of surveillance and terror.