Twelve men accused of ESS are publicly sentenced in Yili (Ili) Kazakh Autonomous Prefecture, Xinjiang, September 18, 2008. Photo credit: iyaxin.com
In 2008 the Xinjiang Rule of Law Leading Small Group published a policy document examining a number of challenges faced by prison authorities in managing the region’s prisoners serving sentences for endangering state security (ESS). The first two sections of the document are translated below. They discuss the climate surrounding Xinjiang prison work and the psychological profiles of ESS prisoners. The last two sections of the document, focusing on how to better reform ESS prisoners, will be translated in an upcoming post.
The document focuses on external factors, like increasing US attention to the “Xinjiang question” and the “three forces” of ethnic separatism, Islamic extremism, and terrorism. Also mentioned are internal factors, such as an insufficient number of prison police, a shortage of funds, and outdated facilities.
Over the years, Dui Hua has drawn on evidence from a variety of open-source documents to conclude that Xinjiang accounts for a considerable proportion of the nation’s ESS arrests, indictments, and trials. In 2008, Xinjiang accounted for more than 75 percent of ESS arrests and 82 percent of ESS indictments nationwide. In the first 11 months of that year, Xinjiang’s procuratorate reported that 1,295 individuals were arrested and 1,154 were indicted for ESS crimes in the region. Between 2008 and 2010, Xinjiang, which accounts for less than two percent of China’s population, accounted for 50 percent of the nation’s first-instance ESS trials. In 2013 and 2014, Xinjiang conducted about 300 ESS trials of first instance each year.
The large number of ESS cases in Xinjiang is connected to the region’s complex history; diverse population; and geo-strategic importance, bordering Russia and Central Asia on China’s northwest. The emergence of independent Central Asian states after the collapse of the Soviet Union and the spread of Islamic ideologies have heightened Chinese authorities’ concerns about stability in the region. Authorities in Xinjiang see themselves as engaging in an ongoing battle against the “three forces.” In their view, what hangs in the balance is the stability of Xinjiang and the allegiance of the region’s 10 million Uyghurs—an ethnically Turkic, culturally distinct, and predominantly Muslim people who have been the main inhabitants of the region for more than 1,000 years.
The document describes the “American Factor” as a “constant threat” to Xinjiang’s social and political stability. It mentions US support for nonviolent resistance movements, or color revolutions, in Central Asia and notes that religious extremism has flourished in countries where color revolutions occurred. US interest in human rights in Xinjiang, particularly its criticism of controversial ESS cases like that of Ilham Tohti, remains a point of contention in US-China relations. China continues to see such attention as interference in its domestic affairs, and accuses the United States of a “double standard” in combatting terrorism for its penchant to draw attention to Chinese policies that marginalize and criminalize Uyghur culture in its response to ethnic clashes in Xinjiang.
Tensions between Han Chinese and Uyghurs flare up periodically as protest. Some of the protests turn violent, as in the deadly riots that erupted in Ürümqi in July 2009. In recent years official media have reported an increasing number of violent incidents in the region. Xinjiang police counted over 190 “terrorist” attacks in 2012. Authorities have also implicated Uyghurs in incidents outside the remote western region, including Beijing’s Tiananmen car crash in October 2013 and knife attacks at Kunming and Guangzhou train stations in 2014 and 2015, respectively. Law enforcement has responded by tightening controls on religious and cultural activities and cracking down on “infiltration” by trans-national radical groups.
One of the radical groups named in the paper is Hizb ut-Tahrir, or Party of Liberation. Many countries have banned the group. Chinese government records show that a substantial proportion of ESS cases are attributed to Hizb ut-Tahrir. For example, in 2010, police in Kashgar identified 522 people for their involvement with Hizb ut-Tahrir, compared with just 47 people involved with the East Turkestan Islamic Party. That said, independent media reports documenting Hizb ut-Tahrir activity in Xinjiang are scarce.
Moving to psychological profiles, the document distinguishes different segments of Xinjiang’s ESS prisoner population by factors such as age, level of education, and exposure to religious ideas. The profiles suggest the need for differentiated strategies of “education and reform.” Prison authorities put considerable emphasis on the need to “convert” ESS offenders and replace their “bigoted” and “reactionary” ideas about ethnicity, religion, and history with proper Marxist understandings that reduce antagonism towards the party-state.