BEIJING – Punishing him for voicing Uighur Muslims concerns about Chinese policies in Xinjiang, a prominent Beijing-based Uighur economist has accused state security agents of threatening to kill him for speaking to foreign reporters.
“I want to kill you,” Ilham Tohti said that an agent told him in a calm voice, after ramming his car from behind, Reuters reported on Tuesday, November 5.
“I want to kill your whole family,” the agent added, according to Tohti.
Tohti, an economics professor at Central University for Nationalities and founder of the website Uyghur Online, said the plainclothes agents acknowledged they had a specific goal in harassing him.
“I’ve been monitored, kept under house arrest and followed by the police for many years, but I’ve never seen public security agents behave this way,” Tohti said in a phone interview.
“To threaten children just isn’t human.”
The move followed his repeated interviews with world media after since Oct. 28, when a car struck and killed two tourists near Tiananmen Square and then went up in flames.
The government has labeled the episode an act of terrorism, accusing Uighur Muslims of plotting the attack.
Uighur Muslims have dismissed China's account of a Tiananmen Square “terrorist attack” as a dubious pretext for repression, amid signs of stepped-up security.
Tohti noted he feared the Tiananmen incident would only lead to more repression and discrimination against Muslims.
“Whatever happens, this will have a long-term and far-reaching impact on Uighurs, and will cause great harm,” he said.
“It will only worsen the obstacles Uighurs face in Han-dominated society.”
Uighur Muslims are a Turkish-speaking minority of eight million in the northwestern Xinjiang region.
Xinjiang, which activists call East Turkestan, has been autonomous since 1955 but continues to be the subject of massive security crackdowns by Chinese authorities.
Rights groups accuse Chinese authorities of religious repression against Uighur Muslims in Xinjiang in the name of counter terrorism.
Adding to Muslims feeling of stigmatization, Chinese top newspaper has accused “Uncultured youth who have been misled by religious extremists” as being the main source of unrest in the region.
“In recent decades, you can see that most people who blindly follow religious extremist forces are elementary-school, secondary-school or uncultured young people,” said the commentary, signed by a person the paper identified as an ethnic Uighur member of the China Federation of Literary and Art Circles in Xinjiang and cited by Reuters.
“We loathe this kind of ignorant behavior, and detest these evil spirits.”
Since 2001, China has conducted a sweeping security crackdown in Xinjiang, further repressing Uighur culture, religious tradition and language.
Xinjiang has been the scene of numerous incidents of unrest in recent years, with the most notable in July 2009 which left nearly 200 people dead.
Chinese authorities have convicted about 200 people, mostly Uighurs, over the riots and sentenced 26 of them to death.
Muslims accuses the government of settling millions of ethnic Han in their territory with the ultimate goal of obliterating its identity and culture.
Analysts say the policy of transferring Han Chinese to Xinjiang to consolidate Beijing's authority has increased the proportion of Han in the region from five percent in the 1940s to more than 40 percent now.
Beijing views the vast region of Xinjiang as an invaluable asset because of its crucial strategic location near Central Asia and its large oil and gas reserves.
“The authorities really need to take a step back and look at the results of their policies, and whether those are effective, in obtaining what we assume they want to obtain, which is less violence and more harmony,” said Corinna-Barbara Francis, China researcher for Amnesty International.
Meanwhile, the main Uighur exile group, the World Uyghur Congress, said that a further 24 Uighurs had been detained recently, warning China risked provoking a backlash.
“The authorities have been stepping up their repression in Uighur areas ... using armed men to check them,” the group's spokesman, Dilxat Raxit, said in an emailed statement.
“If the international community does not take emergency measures to stop China's provocations and repression, the Uighurs who have no hope will resist and fight back as a matter of survival.”
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