The Uighur (pronounced "WEE-grr" or "wee-gur" in English, "wei-wuer" in Chinese, and "ooi-ghoor" by the locals) are an ethnically Turkic group of Muslims in the formerly independent Republic of East Turkistan, which the Chinese call Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region. Uighur has generally been replaced in English-language publications in China with Uygur, as this is closer to the spelling of the name in the Uyghur language. It is also the spelling used in the Turkish to refer to the language and people of Xinjiang. However, the spelling Uyghur is the closest to the local pronunciation.
The large Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region makes up one-sixteenth of China's territory and borders three former Soviet central Asian Republics. Uighurs are an inner Asian ethnic group of oasis-dwelling, Turkic-speaking, traditionally Muslim agriculturalists resident largely in northwest China's Xinjiang-Uygur Autonomous Region. The latest Chinese census gives the present population of the Uighurs as slightly over 6 million. There are also 500,000 Uighurs in Western Turkestan, known as Uzbekistan, Kazakistan, Kirgizistan, Turkmenistan and Tajikistan. Almost 150,000 Uighurs have their homes in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Western Europe and the United States. In order to transform Eastern Turkestan into a Chinese province millions of Chinese have been settled there. Before 1949 there were only 300 thousand Chinese settlers in Eastern Turkestan. Now there are more than 6 million.
July 2009 witnessed an outburst of ethnic violence in the far-Western Chinese province of Xianjiang, between the native Uighur population and the transplanted Chinese majority Han residents of the capital city of Urumchi. This region's history as a way-station on the fabled silk route means that there is a tremendous cultural and historical significance to the land and its people.
Uyghurs in the city of Urumchi, capital of the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, gathered on July 5, 2009, to protest authorities' handling of a reported attack on Uyghur factory workers by Han factory workers in late June in Guangdong province, and to protest government policy toward Uyghurs. Reports indicate the demonstration began as a peaceful protest and later turned violent as protesters clashed with police, who used tear gas and stun batons against the protesters, and later were reported to fire on the crowds. Official Chinese media sources described the demonstration as a riot orchestrated by U.S.-based Uyghur rights activist Rebiya Kadeer, and reported that the incident left at least 156 people dead and over 1000 people injured. Demonstrations also are reported to have occurred in other cities in the XUAR, and demonstrations and outbreaks of violence were reported again in Urumchi on July 7. Sources including overseas media have reported that violence in the region has included both Uyghurs' attacks on Han Chinese and Han attacks against Uyghurs. A number of details about the incidents remain unknown, and the Chinese government has instituted controls over the flow of information on the events.
The Chinese government engages in systematic and egregious violations of the freedom of religion or belief. Religious activities are tightly controlled and some religious adherents were detained, imprisoned, fined, beaten, and harassed. Yet, religious communities continue to grow rapidly in China and the freedom to participate in officially sanctioned religious activity increased in many areas of the country over the past year. High-ranking Chinese government officials, including President Hu Jintao, have praised the positive role of religious communities in China and articulated a desire to have religious groups promote "economic and social development". The law governing religion in China is the National Regulations on Religious Affairs (NRRA), first issued in March 2005 and updated in 2007.
In the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region (XUAR), governmental repression of religious freedom increased in 2008. Chinese government authorities routinely have equated peaceful religious practices among Uighur Muslims with religious extremism and separatism and have used the global war on terror as a pretext to crack down on even the most peaceful forms of dissent or religious activity. Uighur Muslim clerics and students have been detained for various "illegal" religious activities, "illegal religious centers" have been closed, and police continue to confiscate large quantities of "illegal religious publications."
XUAR Party Secretary Wang Lequan stated that the government would use "preemptive attacks" and institute "anti-separatist reeducation" in the XUAR to ensure national safety. The government continues to limit access to mosques, including the participation of women, children, communist party members, and government employees. All imams in Xinjiang are required to undergo annual political training seminars to retain their licenses, and local security forces monitor imams and other religious leaders. Imams at Uighur mosques are reportedly required to meet monthly with officials from the Religious Affairs Bureau and the Public Security Bureau to receive "advice" on the content of their sermons. Failure to report to such meetings can result in the imam's expulsion or detention. Religious leaders and activists who attempt to publicize or criticize human rights abuses in the XUAR have received prolonged prison terms, on charges of "separatism," "endangering social order," and "incitement to subvert state power." Numerous Uighur Muslims have been arrested for peacefully organizing and demonstrating for their religious freedom.
Officials in the XUAR prohibit teaching Islam outside the home to minors, and police have stepped up attempts to halt private religious education programs in some parts of Xinjiang province. Teachers and organizers can be charged with conducting an "illegal religious gathering," a criminal offense. Minors are prohibited from participating in any religious activity or instruction before finishing nine years of compulsory public education.
Components of the Armed Police Corps of Xinjiang Province in the Peoples Republic of China have placed increased emphasis on counterterrorist train-ing and improved force structure for special-purpose elements. This includesa exercise focusing on rapid crisis response and on the integrated useof helicopters, paratroopers and ground combat vehicles, as well as on cre-ating a special-operations component and reorganizing the anti-hijackingcomponent of the corps. The police corps has also reportedly upgraded itscommunications infrastructure. While the Armed Police Corps concerns generally include what are characterized as "criminal gangs" and other violentlawbreakers, the force has also been involved in rural and urban suppression and counterinsurgency efforts. Approximately 15,000 personnel ofthe Armed Police Corps were stationed in the southern portion of Eastern Turkestan by 2004 to ensure what officials of the regional Chinese Communist Partycall "the unity of the great motherland.
Throughout Xinjiang, teachers, professors, university students, and other government employees are prohibited from engaging in religious activities, such as reciting daily prayers, distributing religious materials, observing Ramadan, and wearing head coverings; they are reportedly subject to fines if they attempt to do so. These standards are enforced more strictly in southern Xinjiang and other areas where Uighurs account for a higher percentage of the population. The State Department estimated that over 1,300 people were arrested in the XUAR on charges related to state security during 2008, a large increase from the previous year. Such charges have been used to detain religious adherents and other dissidents in the past.
Human rights organizations have accused China of using counterterrorism as a pretext to suppress Uighurs, a predominantly Muslim ethnic group which makes up the majority of the population within the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region (XUAR) of western China. In the lead up to the august 2008 Olympics, China tightened security in Xinjiang, instituting road checkpoints and arresting people it suspected of being linked to terrorism. In July 2008, the Urumqi, XUAR Public Security Bureau in Urumqi declared that it detained 82 terrorists during the first six months of 2008 while police in Kashgar claimed to have rounded up 12 terrorist groups.
Security forces maintained a high-level of vigilance both in Xinjiang and throughout the country during the Olympics. In spite of this, a series of violent incidents did occur in Xinjiang during the Olympics which the Chinese government has blamed on terrorist organizations. In the most violent reported incident, 17 People's Armed Police Border Guards were killed on 04 August 2008 when assailants attacked them with a vehicle, homemade bombs, and knives.
Although minority separatists are not well-armed and seem to be largely disorganized, the violence poses a very real threat to China's ability to develop Xinjiang. The Chinese Communist Party's (CCP) behavior toward its Muslims has received renewed Western attention in the aftermath of 9/11. China's Uighurs have responded to CCP policies with violence and separatist activity, but the Hui (ethnic Chinese who are Muslim) have reacted with relatively high levels of accommodation. Uighurs and Hui have faced different social and economic realities that have led to different perceptions of inequality and thus, different reactions to CCP policy. Also, unlike Uighur ethnic identity, Hui identity stems from and is compatible with the PRC and Chinese society. The Hui who have blended fairly well into Chinese society, tend to regard some Uyghurs as unpatriotic separatists who give other Chinese Muslims a bad name.
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