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Criminal Arrests in Xinjiang Account for 21% of China’s Total in 2017

July 25, 2018 by admin

China’s Counter-Terror Campaign Indiscriminately Targets Ethnic & Religious Minorities in Xinjiang

Note: On August 10 & 13, 2018, the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) will review China’s implementation of the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination. China signed and ratified the Convention in 1981. The release below is based on a submission to the Committee from CHRD and a partner NGO, Equal Rights Initiative, highlighting major concerns over China’s failure to implement Articles 4 and 5 (a)(b)(d) of the Convention in regard to criminal prosecutions.

(Network of Chinese Human Rights Defenders & Equal Rights Initiative – July 25, 2018) – The number of ethnic minorities who have been put under criminal prosecution in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR) has skyrocketed in recent years, according to the Chinese government’s official data. Under the pretext of “counter-terrorism,” “anti-separatism,” and “de-extremism” efforts, Chinese authorities have greatly increased the number of arrests and prosecutions in Xinjiang, which will have disproportionally affected Uyghur Muslims. The government has abandoned any appearance of maintaining judicial review or respecting due process rights in these “strike hard” campaigns.
According to Chinese government data, criminal arrests in Xinjiang accounted for an alarming 21% of all arrests in China in 2017, though the population in the XUAR is only about 1.5% of China’s total, based on the 2010 Census. Ethnic minorities account for nearly 60% of Xinjiang’s population, the largest group being ethnic Uyghurs, who account for 46% of the population. Though the government does not provide the data disaggregated by ethnicity, criminal punishment would disproportionately target the Uyghur Muslim group based on their percentage of the population.
The ratio of formal arrests made in Xinjiang has increased by 306% in the past five years compared to the previous five-year period. Of the total number of people arrested from 2013 to 2017, nearly 70% of the arrests were made in the year 2017 alone. These numbers reflect all types of criminal cases, but the dramatic increase is likely related to the government’s “strike hard” campaign against terrorism, separatism, and religious extremism.

Criminal indictments in Xinjiang increased dramatically during the same period of time, according to State data. Given that China’s conviction rate is 99.9%, nearly every individual indicted is likely to be convicted.
In 2017, indictments in Xinjiang accounted for approximately 13% of all indictments in China, a figure far out of proportion given the region’s population. A total of 362,872 individuals were indicted between 2013 and 2017, an increase of 237% from the total number of indictments between 2008-2012. Indictments issued in Xinjiang in 2017 alone account for nearly 60% of all indictments between 2013-2017.

For both arrests and indictments, the sudden increases in 2017 from 2016 are staggering. While the government has not provided explicit explanations for the steep climb, it is likely the result of hard-line tactics adopted by the Communist Party secretary for Xinjiang, Chen Quanguo, who was appointed in August 2016, after implementing harsh measures to “maintain stability” as Party head in the Tibet Autonomous Region. Chen is reportedly responsible for a 92% increase in “security spending” in Xinjiang from 2016 to 2017, as well as a large expansion in police recruitment. Furthermore, many of the hundreds of thousands of ethnic Uyghurs detained in extrajudicial re-education camps—to which almost all are believed to have been sent without being criminally detained or formally arrested—have since ended up in the criminal justice system.
In the so-called “strike hard” campaigns in the XUAR, the government’s political priorities have trumped legal and human rights. Authorities in Xinjiang typically deprive detainees’ right to a fair trial, circumvent judicial procedures, speed up or simplify investigation and judicial review, and hand down heavy prison sentences for alleged crimes related to “terrorism” or “separatism.” One prominent victim of the “strike hard” campaign is Uyghur scholar Ilham Tohti, who taught economics at the National University of Ethnic Minorities in Beijing and created and ran a website that provided news and information about Uyghurs. He is serving a life sentence in Xinjiang after being convicted of “separatism” in 2014. The Chinese government punished Ilham Tohti for peacefully advocating for the rights of Uyghurs via the online platform that he had founded.
Chinese lawyers who spoke to us, and who have handled criminal cases in Xinjiang, have found that ethnic minority detainees have even fewer protections of their legal rights than detainees of Han majority background. For example, for cases in Xinjiang related to alleged “terrorism,” which virtually always involve ethnic minorities, defendants are not allowed to plead “not guilty,” and they tend to be quickly put on trial and sentenced to prison. In cases adjudicated in Xinjiang, the lawyers said that if they protested violations of their clients’ rights, they faced being dismissed from the cases. The lawyers believe that many so-called “terrorist” cases in Xinjiang do not go through appropriate court procedures. For instance, these verdicts have often been prepared before trials take place, with government or Party officials deciding the sentences, not judges.
Detainees’ family members whom we interviewed in 2017-8 raised similar concerns about procedural and legal rights violations. Some families said that they had not learned the fate of their loved ones who were taken away to re-education camps until after the detainees had been transferred to prison. Even then, many still had not been told the full details on criminal charges or prison sentences, and prosecution and sentencing had often been carried out in secret.
The accounts below illustrate the arbitrary nature and wide scope of criminal detentions in Xinjiang, often for minor or insignificant acts that occurred years prior. These cases offer perspective on the dramatic increase in criminal arrests and indictments in the region in 2017.
One ethnic Uyghur told us:
My uncle, a farmer, didn’t really understand how to use a computer or mobile phone. He asked someone to help him download songs to play on his phone, but he didn’t understand the contents of the songs. During the harvest, he lent his phone to a worker to play music, and another worker reported my uncle to authorities. Authorities accused him of broadcasting banned content. My uncle was given a seven-year prison sentence.
A Uyghur villager recounted:
A carpenter in my village was recently detained. We aren’t sure if he’s already been sent to prison or is still in a re-education camp. The reason given for his detention was that he had attended Koranic studies classes 10 years ago. Our local Iman was detained and forced to give authorities the names of his students and soon afterwards authorities came for the carpenter.
Another ethnic Uyghur said:
My brother was sentenced to seven years in prison after a former junior high school classmate of his was detained. The classmate told authorities that the two of them had watched some kind of terrorism videos when they were in junior high, and after watching the videos, they had vowed to build up their muscles and create an “ethnic incident.” My brother received a seven-year sentence for that misguided adolescent boasting which happened a decade before! It was just 10-year-old chatter by teenagers, and they never did anything. After my brother was sent to prison, my father was sent for “re-education” for not properly disciplining his son. We lost contact with my father a long time ago, and maybe he’s already been sent to prison himself.
On August 10 and 13, when the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination examines whether China has fully complied with its Convention, it must press the Chinese government to:
• Ensure complete judicial review and protection of due process rights of defendants prosecuted for “national security,” “terrorism,” or “separatism” crimes, including the right to legal counsel of their choice, timely notification of families according to the law, and fair and public trials by an independent court; and
• Release immediately those who have been wrongly convicted and provide state compensation to them for arbitrarily depriving their liberties or subjecting them to torture or mistreatment.
Large-scale arrests and expedited convictions of members of ethnic minority groups in Xinjiang have followed, since 2014, the visit to the region by Xi Jinping and a high-level meeting Xi chaired on the government’s strategies in Xinjiang. The government has frequently staged “strike hard” campaigns after the 2009 riots in Urumqi and several terrorist attacks, operating according to the government-dictated rule of “strict, fast, heavy” criminal punishment against “terrorists,” “extremists” or “separatists.”
China’s top judicial and law enforcement agencies issued Opinions in September 2014 to instruct “strike hard” campaigns with a set of rules for law enforcement and courts, which authorized suspending or bypassing due process rights in prosecuting terrorist or separatist suspects. Authorities expanded the number of crimes related to terrorism in the 9th Amendments to the Criminal Law (2015). In June 2018, four government agencies issued another set of Opinions, providing further guidance in prosecuting crimes related to terrorism and extremism, furnishing more legal justification for widespread arrests and prosecutions.
Suppression and discrimination in law, policies, and practice in China against ethnic minorities in the XUAR, particularly the ethnic Uyghur population, have worsened since 2009. In reaction to the riots in Urumqi in 2009, ethnic clashes in 2015, and sporadic terrorist attacks, the Chinese government has subjected ethnic minorities in Xinjiang to repression and systemic discrimination in many facets of life.
The Chinese government has implemented militarized security measures, invasive policing, and community surveillance, including through “big data analytics”; forced hundreds of thousands of people into “re-education” camps; and drastically restricted ethnic language, culture, and religion. The Chinese authorities have imposed strict and stringent monitoring, control, and punishment, indiscriminately targeting ethnic minorities in Xinjiang, all under the pretext of “anti-terror, de-extremism, and counter-separatism” policies.
These discriminatory security measures in Xinjiang are dictated from the top: Chinese Communist Party General Secretary and the Chinese President Xi Jinping declared in May 2014 that the government would embark on a nationwide counter-terrorism campaign, but largely focused on China’s western regions. Xi Jinping stated that China must “construct walls built with copper and iron, knit nets reaching the heavens and earth” by “strongly boosting police readiness through mass surveillance and mass management” in order to “harshly battle against violent terrorist activities.”
Regional stability and State control in Xinjiang are critically important for the success of Xi’s “Belt Road Initiative,” for which the XUAR is the primary land route for trade and investment in Central and South Asia, Europe, and the Middle East. Construction of a pervasive security infrastructure in Xinjiang, which began as early as 2009, has greatly accelerated since 2016, after Xi appointed Chen Quanguo as the new Communist Party Secretary for the region.

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