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In this July 7, 2009 file photo, a Uigher woman demands the return of members from her community before a group of paramilitary police officers when journalists visited the area in Urumqi in western China's Xinjiang province. Nearly a year after the worst communal riots in China's far west in more than a decade, stories of asylum seekers interviewed by The Associated Press are among the few accounts to emerge of how some Uighurs managed to get out amid a government crackdown. (AP Photo/Ng Han Guan, File)
AP Photo/Ng Han Guan
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WHOSE RIGHTS

China is touting its protection of human rights in a Muslim-majority region riven by violence

By Echo Huang

China put out a policy paper today on human rights in the Muslim-heavy Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, where the Chinese government has been cracking down extensively in recent years.

The report, titled “Human Rights in Xinjiang—Development and Progress” was issued by the information office of the State Council, China’s propaganda department. The introduction to the report (link in Chinese) declares that “Before 1949, when People’s Republic of China was founded, people in Xinjiang had been suffering from foreign invasions’ influences, ripped by the feudal society and suppressed by privileged religious stratum.” Since then, it goes on to say, China has provided the foundations for “people with different ethnicities in Xinjiang to truly enjoy human rights.”

Not everyone agrees with Beijing’s definition of “human rights.” The violence-prone region’s 10 million Muslim Uyghurs say they are treated as second-class citizens, and the community has been targeted by the authorities as part of the effort to wipe out homegrown terrorists in recent years. The report hardly mentioned any of China’s ongoing crackdowns.

In March, authorities passed a new regulation that bans over a dozen behaviors that authorities deem “abnormal,” including wearing an veil or a beard, common practices by Muslims.

And in May, a report by Human Rights Watch found that local citizens in Xinjiang had been required by police to submit DNA samples for passport applications (link in Chinese) “for a nationally searchable database without oversight, transparency, or privacy protections.”

Despite all this, the government’s new report asserts that Xinjiang’s people have been able to enjoy freedom of religious belief, which it attributes to the country’s “continuous crackdowns on the infiltration of extremism in religions” (link in Chinese).

Maya Wang, a China researcher at Human Rights Watch, said the statistics and assertions in China’s white paper “are largely irrelevant or only tangential to human rights or freedoms, rather than being an honest assessment about its rights record in the minority region. It functions largely as propaganda aiming to mislead the readers.”