The Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region has become a police state since Chen Quanguo took office as the province’s Chinese Communist Party (CCP) chief. Under his directive, Xinjiang residents have been put under tight surveillance, with many ethnic minorities sent to concentration camps and many Falun Gong practitioners subjected to intensified persecution for their faith.
When Chen Quanguo took office in Xinjiang in 2016, he implemented the so-called “grid management” system, whereby the province was divided into numerous segments (grids or cells) down to the level of streets, with each segment managed by a neighborhood community (Shequ). The aim is to impose direct and close monitoring of society.
In China, neighborhood communities are the lowest level of the administrative body of the government. However, they are given extended and often unchecked power in Xinjiang. Each neighborhood community has 20-30 staffers responsible for 5,000 -10,000 residents.
Neighborhood community staff are mostly newly minted college graduates and previously unemployed transients. These people generally have no awareness or concept of the rule of law. They only follow the orders from the CCP. Yet they control almost every aspect of people’s lives, from getting a marriage license to attending school, from business licenses to public security, from fire prevention to environmental protection.
For example, to have someone sent to an internment camp requires no approval of any other government agency. A neighborhood community simply writes a report and with the signature from the community director, the police are dispatched to send the person to the camp.
Neighborhood communities also have a say over people finishing up prison terms. If they refuse to sign paperwork to accept a newly released prisoner, that person must remain in prison.
Because neighborhood communities can bypass all legal procedures, they have enabled the police to take several millions of people to internment camps in a few short years. With the ever-present neighborhood community and expanded police force, Xinjiang has become a police state.
Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, hundreds of security checkpoints had been set up between all cities and townships in Xinjiang to monitor and control people’s movement, especially Falun Gong practitioners and dissidents who are considered “unstable elements” by the authorities.
If any of these people passes a security checkpoint, an alert is triggered and he/she will be arrested. Within the cities, the Public Security Bureau set up thousands of police posts, 500 meters apart on all streets. The goal is to have police within a minute anywhere in the city.
Under such a reign of terror, many affluent Xinjiang residents chose to move away. According the government statistics, over 500,000 ethnic Han Chinese moved out of Xinjing in the past 18 years. When the government realized that the ratio of Han and Uighur people had changed dramatically, restrictions were imposed to keep people from moving out of Xinjing. The government also actively recruits those of Han ethnicity from other provinces for government positions in Xinjiang.
Persecution of Falun Gong Practitioners
Falun Gong practitioners in Xinjiang have faced intense persecution after Chen Quanguo took office. Many practitioners have been arrested and detained. In recent years, neighborhood communities have been taking a more active role in the persecution. For example, Falun Gong practitioners must report to their neighborhood communities once a week; must participate in the CCP flag-raising ceremony and so-called “study session” once a week; must submit a “thought report” once a week to the neighborhood community.
Additional staffers are allocated to neighborhood communities with known Falun Gong practitioners. They randomly check and search practitioners’ homes; they visit practitioners’ workplaces to harass them; they prevent practitioners from leaving their neighborhood. They are known to threaten practitioners with arrest and/or enter their identification on the police’s network for facial recognition so that their movements are always tracked by thousands of surveillance cameras installed around the region. In some ways, neighborhood communities are worse than the police because they have even less scruples concerning basic human rights.
As recently as a month ago, the Urumqi Political and Legal Affairs Committee, an extra-judiciary agency tasked to persecute Falun Gong, printed a large number of propaganda materials slandering Falun Gong. They had planned to launch a large-scale campaign in all neighborhood communities to force Falun Gong practitioners to renounce their belief.
The plan was scrapped after the U.S. Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) issued sanctions on July 9 against Chen Quanguo for his “connection to serious human rights abuse against ethnic minorities in Xinjiang.”
The first suspected case of coronavirus was reported on July 10. The second-wave cases grew to 17 on July 17. Hours later, three cities, including Urumqi, Turpan, and Kashgar, were put on lockdown.
Traditional Chinese culture believed that rulers’ bad actions were often followed by disasters. The second wave of coronavirus in Xinjiang may be a warning to Chen Quanguo and other CCP officials regarding the persecution of ethnic minorities and Falun Gong practitioners.
We are calling for an end to the suppression and we hope that Xinjiang residents can freely practice their beliefs.