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China Tightens Xinjiang Security, Targets Tibetan Environmentalist

China has installed 40,000 security cameras throughout the capital of the Xinjiang region days before the first anniversary of the country’s worst ethnic violence in decades. The new security measures in the ethnic Uighur region come as prominent intellectuals in neighboring Tibet also face increasing pressure from the state.

The new cameras will peer inside buses, supermarkets, department stores and thousands of other public spaces across Urumqi.

Chinese state media say police will constantly monitor the high-definition surveillance cameras to ensure the capital remains peaceful for all ethnic groups.

But Corinna-Barbara Francis of Amnesty International says creating a police state will not solve the problems among Xinjiang’s ethnic groups.

“I think what the government needs to address are long-standing policies that have discriminated against Uighurs, as well as some of the other ethnic minorities living in the region,” says Francis.

Monday is the first anniversary of deadly riots that erupted between the region’s mostly Muslim ethnic Uighurs and members of the Han ethnic majority. At least 200 people died.

China blames Uighur separatists for the unrest, but rights groups say Beijing’s discriminatory economic and cultural policies against the Uighurs have raised ethnic tensions to a boiling point.

Lasting tension

A year after the violence, thousands of police are patrolling the streets of Urumqi and activists say many people arrested during the riots are still missing.

Francis, of Amnesty International, says Chinese authorities have intensified what she called a “strike-hard campaign” to control the population.

“There is a very, very somber mood among certainly ethnic minorities and probably the entire population because if the groups are not getting along, that’s going to affect everyone in the region,” says Francis.

The Muslim Uighurs of Xinjiang share many of the same concerns as Tibetan Buddhists, who complain China’s Communist government is trying to eradicate their culture and religion in order to create what it calls a harmonious society.

Pressure on Tibet

Frustrated Tibetans rose up against Chinese authorities two years ago in a rare, violent protest against Beijing. Rights groups say prominent Tibetans not involved in politics have faced increasing repression by the government since then.

Among those targeted are three brothers once lauded by Beijing for their environmental protection work. One of the brothers, Rinchen Samdrup, goes on trial on security charges Saturday in eastern Tibet. He and his brother, Jigme Namgyal, were detained in August after accusing local authorities of poaching.

Kate Saunders, the communications director for the International Campaign for Tibet, says China has politicized the case.

“There’s already been early indicators from China that [Rinchen Samdrup] may be facing charges of incitement to split the country,” says Saunders. “Those are accusations that can carry a very heavy penalty in China.”

Rinchen Samdrup’s brother, Karma, was sentenced to 15 years in prison last week for decade-old charges that he bought looted antiques. Supporters say the charges are false, and that the award-winning environmentalist is really being punished for speaking up in defense of his detained brothers.

Saunders says the arrest of the Samdrup brothers has had a chilling effect across Tibet.

“It means that others who are doing similar work in civil society are very vulnerable indeed, and it’s certainly sent a strong signal to those individuals and it’s a sign of a broadening, deepening crackdown,” says Saunders.

Karma Samdrup’s lawyer is considering appealing his sentence, but rights groups say the Chinese government is showing no signs of releasing the tight grip it has on Tibet or Xinjiang.