Uighur Developments in the 1990s
Beijing is particularly concerned that a global Islamic revival-and particularly rising consciousness regarding an international Islamic community, or Ummah-may cause separatist aspirations in Xinjiang to be redefined in religious terms. The Chinese government severely represses Islamic practice in the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region (XUAR), especially among the Uighur ethnic group. The situation in Xinjiang for Muslims is extremely severe. Uighurs are arbitrarily detained. Thousands of Uighur political prisoners are in jail and are tortured. There have been very violent repressions of protest, mass closings of Koranic schools, a large number of death sentences for religious protesters.
In 1990, the Uighurs, Kirghiz and Kazakhs of Eastern Turkestan again rose up against Chinese rule. In April in the remote town of Akto, more than 1000 residents, furious at not being allowed to build a mosque, took to the streets. More than 60 people were killed in clashes with Chinese troops. China claims that it has been fighting insurgent violence or terrorism ever since the Baren [Barin] Township riot on April 5, 1990, in which as many as 1600 people (Uighurs and Chinese police) were killed. In July 1990 the authorities in Xinjiang announced the arrest of 7,900 people in a crackdown on "criminal activities of ethnic splittists and other criminal offenders."
Some restrictions on religion in the XUAR are not found elsewhere in China. The XUAR's 1993 Implementing Measures for the Law on the Protection of Minors forbid parents and guardians to allow minors to engage in religious activity. No other provincial-level or national regulation on minors or religion contains this restriction.
The "Strike Hard" anti-crime campaign launched in 1996 was announced as an initiative to answer citizens' legitimate concerns about rising crime through a high-intensity series of high-profile police actions. The "Strike Hard" campaign never officially came to an end, though it faded from the scene in most urban areas. In minority areas, however, it is a different story. Particularly in Xinjiang province, home to the Muslim Uighur nationality, the "Strike Hard" work appears to be going full-tilt, clearly a tool being used to justify harsh measures against political activists, including many well publicized executions of accused pro-independence activists.
In 1996, the Chinese government reported in 2002 that, after "hundreds of terrorists had been trained" and in order to work out a unified course of action and impose strict organizational discipline, the Eastern Turkestan terrorists held a so-called "Eastern Turkestan Islamic Conference" in Hotan. The Hotan conference was said to have designed a detailed program of action to be carried out in four stages. In the first stage, the main effort was to raise money and train the men. In the second stage efforts had been made to kill a number of famous "scum" people in Xinjiang. The goal of the third stage was to create conditions for guerrilla war.
On the eve of Ramadan on 05 February 1997 in Ghulja, believers were offended by the arrests of 30 prestigious religious leaders by the Chinese Government. Six hundred young people took to the streets, walking toward city government, demanding release of those religious figures. On their way, they were stopped by police and the paramilitary forces. Police violently dispersed crowds using electrical clubs, water cannon, and tear gas in the freezing day. The second day, an even bigger demonstration was held after Uighurs all over town heard about the incident. Chinese police and paramilitary forces were ordered to shoot to the crowd, and killed 167 people, and succeeded in suppressing the rally. Afterwards, the Chinese policemen arrested over 5,000 demonstrators, including elder, young women and children in a single day on the charge of intending to split the motherland, conducting criminal activity, fundamental religious activity, and counter-revolutionary element.
The Chinese Government subsequently made the first open execution of seven Uighurs in order to 'kill the chicken to scare the monkeys.' Chinese military forces loaded them on to the open truck and drove slowly through the busy Uighur bazaar and neighborhoods through a crowd. When the mourners got too close to the trucks, the Chinese soldiers opened fire and killed nine more people.
In 1997, bombs exploded in a city park in Beijing on 13 May (killing one) and on two buses on 7 March (killing 2), as well as in the northwestern border city of Urumqi, the capital of Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region, on 25 February (killing 9). Some reports state there were over 30 other bombings in 1998. However, there were no PRC or non-PRC media reports of such incidents in 1998. The PRC government's own report of 2002 on "East Turkistan terrorists" claimed bombingincidents in Xinjiang from 1991 to 1998, with none after that year.
Numerous members of the Uighur Muslim minority were executed since the events of the late 1990s, with hundreds arrested on suspicion of taking part in ethnic riots and engaging in separatist activities. In Spring 1998, the National Peoples Congress passed a New Criminal Law that redefined "counter-revolutionary" crimes to be "crimes against the state", liable to severe prison terms and even execution. Included in "crimes against the state" were any actions considered to involve "ethnic discrimination" or "stirring up anti-ethnic sentiment".
From 1998 to 2008, there was a decade without a single report of Uighur-related violence.