A man rests beside a house in Elishku in China’s western Xinjiang region. Elishku was the scene of a bloody clash in July 28, 2014 between villagers protesting against the Chinese regime’s restrictions during the Islamic holy month of Ramadan and the government troops. (Greg Baker/AFP/Getty Images)A man rests beside a house in Elishku in China’s western Xinjiang region. Elishku was the scene of a bloody clash in July 28, 2014 between villagers protesting against the Chinese regime’s restrictions during the Islamic holy month of Ramadan and the government troops. (Greg Baker/AFP/Getty Images)

Globe and Mail journalist Nathan VanderKlippe, who was briefly detained by Chinese police earlier this week, says he travelled to Elishku in China’s volatile Xinjiang region to find out more about a 2014 violent confrontation between Chinese authorities and the ethnic Uyghurs that exiled groups say resulted in 2,000 deaths.

VanderKlippe, the Globe’s Beijing correspondent, was detained on Wednesday evening, Aug. 23, just as he arrived in Elishku. He had his laptop confiscated by the secret police and was released early Thursday morning.

Similar to Tibet, Xinjiang is a very sensitive region for the Chinese communist regime due to the minority group’s dissatisfaction and occasional protests over the Chinese regime’s suppression of their rights and customs.

The Chinese Communist Party stifles the minority Uyghur group’s Islamic religious activity. Instances include barring Muslims from observing Ramadan, requiring men to shave their beards, forcing women to remove their veils, and coercing them to raise pigs, considered unclean in Muslim culture.

Not much is known about what happened on July 28, 2014, at the end of Ramadan in Elishku. China’s official accounts claim that the violent confrontation was in response to knife- and axe-wielding Uyghurs on a rampage, and put the official death toll at close to 100.

Exiled Uyghur leader Rebiya Kadeer, however, cited evidence from the ground that at least 2,000 Uyghurs had been killed in what she called a massacre. Kadeer told Radio Free Asia that this was the highest reported casualty count in the history of Xinjiang violence.

Kadeer said evidence includes “recorded voice messages from the people in the neighbourhood and written testimonies on exactly what had taken place in Elishku township of Yarkand County during this massacre.”

Suppression of independent reporting of events is all too common in China. There is still no clear account of the death toll of the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre in Beijing, with the Chinese regime putting the death toll between 200 to 300 while other estimates put the toll at well over 1,000.

Deteriorating Conditions

According to a survey report by the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of China (FCCC), conditions for international press in China continue to deteriorate.

The FCCC’s 2016 survey indicates 98 percent of foreign journalists report that conditions rarely meet international standards and that they face growing cases of harassment, obstruction, and intimidation of sources and local staff.

Close to 60 percent of journalists reported that they had personally experienced some form of interference, harassment, or violence while reporting in China.

Throughout his encounter with the authorities, VanderKlippe said he reminded the police that Chinese law allows him to report and interview anyone who gives consent. But his captors told him that Chinese law doesn’t apply to secret police, and even less so does it apply to a sensitive region like Xinjiang.

VanderKlippe wrote in a report for the Globe that his ordeal offered “a window into the ways China’s laws are regularly reduced to guideposts that can be ignored in service of broader objectives, and the contortions authorities take to reconcile the two.”

“It also illuminated the measures Chinese officials take to suppress unauthorized accounts of a region where the harsh policies of an authoritarian state have limited a minority people’s ability to conduct life on their own terms.”

Last June, Canadians saw a glimpse on their own soil of how China treats journalists when Chinese minister of foreign affairs Wang Yi scolded a Canadian journalist for asking a question related to China’s human rights record during a joint conference with then-Canadian foreign affairs minister Stephane Dion in Ottawa.  

In December 2015, China deported French reporter and veteran China journalist Ursula Gauthier for her reporting in which she denounced Chinese state-media coverage that equated the Uyghurs’ protests with the Nov. 15, 2015, Paris terrorist attacks.

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The deputy head of a provincial public security department has been arrested for bribery and abuse of power in China. Xiu Hui is now in the custody of the system he sat atop for many years where he dished out torture and severe punishment to persecuted groups.
The majority of Xiu’s victims were practitioners of Falun Gong, a traditional spiritual discipline that’s been persecuted in China since 1999.
According to state mouthpiece media People’s Daily Online, the procuratorate in Xinjiang Province announced that an investigation against Xiu was underway.
Since 2002, Xiu’s entire career was in public security in Xinjiang. From January 2002 to September 2010 he was party secretary and administration of re-education through labor. He then became party secretary and director of prisons until June 2013, when he was promoted to deputy head of public security.
But the crimes he is accused of are minor in comparison to the cruel torture he ordered on innocent people in his various positions, according to Minghui.org, a website that provides up-to-date reports about the persecution of Falun Gong.
Falun Gong, a spiritual practice that teaches people to live by the principles of truthfulness, compassion, and tolerance, became targeted for persecution in China on July 20, 1999, when then Communist Party leader Jiang Zemin ordered a nationwide crackdown on the group.
Thousands of Falun Gong followers have been persecuted to death, and hundreds of thousands have been imprisoned in detention centers, brainwashing centers, labor camps, and prisons. Countless more have been victims Before the launch of the suppression, there were an estimated 70 million Falun Gong followers in China, according to a state survey at the time.
Deaths Under Xiu’s Watch
Minghui notes 10 prominent cases of severely persecuted Falun Gong practitioners, nine to death, in labor camps under Xiu’s watch.
Ge Lijun, born in 1976, was expelled from a college in Xinjiang after the school learned he practiced Falun Gong meditation. From 1999 to 2009, Ge was sent to Ghangli City Forced Labor Camp three times for a total of six years. The last time he was released, in March 2009, he was in a poor health from being tortured with electric shocks, sleep deprivation, and other methods. Ge died three months later after local hospitals refused to treat him on order of the police and security bureau.
Niu Guifen passed away in November 2013, one year after being released from Xinjiang’s Women’s Prison. During her 4.5-year sentence, Niu was subjected to physical and psychological torture as authorities tried to coerce her into renouncing her beliefs.
Xie Zhenggong, originally an employee at Bayi Iron and Steel Company at Ürümqi, served a six-year prison at Xinjiang No. 5 Prison beginning in 2003. While incarcerated, Xie was physically abused by other inmates, who were told by prison authorities they would have their prison terms reduced if they could successfully coerce Xie into abandoning Falun Gong. Xie eventually died in March 2012 at the age of 42.
The World Organization to Investigation the Persecution of Falun Gong (WOIPFG) has confirmed the serious human rights violations and persecution taking place at the Xinjiang No. 5 Prison.

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After gunmen claiming association with the terrorist organization ISIS wreaked havoc on Paris with homemade bombs and Kalashnikov rifles, killing at least 129, the Chinese Communist Party is attempting to leverage the incident to gain international support.
China, officials claim, also has a terrorist problem.
But experts on the Chinese region of Xinjiang home to the Uyghur Muslims say that the causes of outbursts of violence in that region bear little resemblance to extremist jihadi groups like ISIS.
The Chinese government is leveraging this situation to make Western audience accept what they say about Xinjiang.— Patrick Meyers, independent researcher, ETH Zurich University

That did not deter China’s foreign minister, Wang Yi, from pronouncing at a Group of 20 summit on Nov. 15: “China is also a victim of terrorism, and attacking the ‘East Turkestan’ terrorist forces represented by the East Turkestan Islamic Movement should become an important part of international counterterrorism.”
Uyghur separatists refer to Xinjiang by its former name East Turkestan.
The day prior—and the day after the Nov. 13 Paris attacks—several state-run media outlets in China posted pictures of black clad armed police storming what looked to be homes in rural Xinjiang.
“France’s Paris was hit by its worst terrorist attack in history, with hundreds dead and injured. On the other side of the world, police in China’s Xinjiang, after a 56-day pursuit, carried out a full assault on the terrorists and got great results,” read the text that followed the images.
After the article attracted a strong negative reaction, it was taken down.
“The Chinese government is leveraging this situation to make Western audience accept what they say about Xinjiang,” said Patrick Meyers, an independent researcher with ETH Zurich University in Switzerland.
“China’s accusation against Uyghurs has special political purpose: China links Uyghurs and terrorism to suppress and attack both,” said Dilxat Raxit, a spokesman with the Germany-based World Uyghur Congress, in a telephone interview.
There are indeed violent outbursts in Xinjiang, Raxit said, but “Uyghurs lashing out at the Communist Party has nothing to do with international terrorism.”
He added, “Calling it ‘terrorism’ is to avoid the international society accusing the Communist Party of having a policy of suppression in Xinjiang.”
Iron Fisted Rule
Xinjiang is a massive region in the west of China. It was invaded (“liberated” in Party discourse) by the People’s Liberation Army in 1949, and put under iron-fisted rule in which the native Uyghur population, a Turkic Muslim people, have been marginalized and repressed in their own homeland.
Uyghurs widely feel that Han people, the dominant ethnic group in China, have migrated en masse and dominated the government and society, leaving Uyghurs on the sidelines. A 2000 census found that Uyghurs made up only 43 percent of the population as compared to 40 percent Han Chinese—a stark contrast to before the communist takeover, where almost 90 percent of the population was Uyghur.
Police control is strict, and there are numerous limitations on the free exercise of religion—including the choice to grow a beard, or fast during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.
Uyghurs are the victim of human right oppression because in Xinjiang, there are no human rights, freedom of speech, freedom of press, and freedom of belief.— Erkin Emet, professor, Ankara University

This May, Party authorities in Laskuy, a township in the major Xinjiang city of Hotan, even ordered restaurants and supermarkets to prominently display cigarettes and alcohol, two taboo items for Muslims.
As is the case with many minority religious and ethnic groups, the Party has sought to suppress Uyghur culture and language ever since it came to rule the territory. For instance, school children are taught solely Mandarin Chinese in classrooms, and they are forgetting their Uyghur mother tongue.
‘Reactive’ Attacks in China
Uyghur groups say that it is partly in reaction to the Chinese regime’s policies that some individuals have taken up arms—five assailants stabbed 33 people to death at a train station in Yunnan Province in March 2014; five Uyghurs attacked a market in Urumqi, the capital of Xinjiang, on May 22, 2014, killing 39.
Experts look upon these outbursts as something quite different than a group like ISIS, which has an explicitly religious extremist ideology, and functions as a well-organized, well-funded terrorist outfit.
“Uyghurs are very, very angry with China’s policies there, and some groups of people are also unhappy with the situation and hence they act in a violent way,” said Meyers.
Raxit said that Uyghur violence takes place “when people can’t take it anymore,” and that “Beijing has an unshirkable responsibility.”
One of the most well-known cases was the massive demonstration by thousands of Uyghurs in Urumqi, in 2009, prompted by a case of racial violence in a factory in the southern Chinese province of Guangdong.
The acts of violence—stabbings at railway stations, knife or bomb attacks at markets—are “reactive events,” Meyers said, typically carried out by aggrieved Uyghur individuals or small groups. “Something small happens to them, and they form improvised groups.”
On the other hand, he added, “The events in Paris were organized and planned. They’re different in nature.”
Because international news discusses terrorism and Islam on a very superficial level, the parallel the Chinese government is trying to draw “will work, and the international audience will accept it,” Meyers said.
Erkin Emet, a professor at Ankara University in Turkey who specializes in Xinjiang research and the Turkish language, said China has been linking the Uyghurs with terrorism since after the attacks on the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001.
“Uyghurs are the victim of human right oppression because in Xinjiang, there are no human rights, freedom of speech, freedom of press, and freedom of belief,” Emet said.
In his opinion, though, the international community won’t be convinced by the Chinese regime’s attempt to link terrorism and the Uyghurs—but the Party might score a propaganda coup on home soil.
Juliet Song contributed to this report.

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