Since an outbreak of demonstrations and ethnic unrest in 2009, and clashes involving Uyghurs and Xinjiang security personnel that spiked between 2013 and 2015, PRC leaders have sought to “stabilize” the XUAR through more intensive security measures aimed at combatting “terrorism, separatism and religious extremism.” PRC official data indicates that criminal arrests in Xinjiang increased from approximately 14,000 in 2013 to 228,000 in 2017.
Two prominent Uyghurs serving life sentences for state security crimes are Ilham Tohti (convicted in 2014), a Uyghur economics professor who had maintained a website related to Uyghur issues, and Gulmira Imin (convicted in 2010), who had managed a Uyghur language website and participated in the 2009 protests. In September 2017, former Xinjiang University President Tashpolat Teyip, an ethnic Uyghur, was convicted of separatism in a secret trial and received a death sentence with a two-year reprieve. His status is unknown.
Since 2017, in tandem with a new national policy referred to as “Sinicization,” XUAR authorities have instituted measures to assimilate Uyghurs into Han Chinese society and reduce the influences of Uyghur, Islamic, and Arabic cultures and languages. The XUAR government enacted a law in 2017 that prohibits “expressions of extremification,” and placed restrictions, often imposed arbitrarily, upon face veils, beards and other grooming, the practice of traditional Uyghur customs, and adherence to Islamic dietary laws (halal). Thousands of mosques in Xinjiang reportedly have been demolished as part of what the government calls a “mosque rectification” campaign; others have been “Sinicized”—minarets have been taken down, onion domes have been replaced by traditional Chinese roofs, and Islamic motifs and Arabic writings have been removed.
China’s new religious policies also have placed greater restrictions on the Hui, another Muslim minority group in China who number around 11 million, although these have been less severe than those placed on the Uyghurs. The Hui are more geographically dispersed and culturally assimilated than the Uyghurs, are generally physically indistinguishable from Hans, and do not speak a nonChinese language.
With the apparent strong backing of Communist Party General Secretary Xi Jinping, beginning in 2016, the new Communist Party Secretary of the XUAR, former Tibet Party Secretary Chen Quanguo, stepped up security measures aimed at the Uyghur population. Such actions have included the installation of thousands of neighborhood police kiosks, more intrusive monitoring of Internet use, and the collection of biometric data for identification purposes. The central government sent an estimated one million officials and state workers from outside Xinjiang, mostly ethnic Han, to live temporarily in the homes of Uyghurs to assess their loyalty to the Communist Party.
Source: Uyghurs in China