All residents of China’s far western region of Xinjiang have been ordered to hand in their passports to local police stations for “examination and management.”
This report comes from party mouthpiece the Global Times which spoke with an anonymous police officer in the region’s Aksu prefecture. “Anyone who needs the passport must apply to the police station,” the officer said, adding that the rule applies to the entire region.
The order follows a number of other initiatives to crack down on movement inside and outside of the restive region. Most notably, back in October, the public security bureau of Shihezi city posted a directive on its official Weibo account calling on residents to hand in their passports to police.
“Those who refuse to hand them in will bear the responsibility themselves should there be consequences such as being forbidden to go abroad,” read the post, which was later deleted. Looks like they got their marching orders a little early.
While the new directive applies to all 20 million plus people living in Xinjiang, it is believed to be focused mainly on the 10 million Uighur Muslims that live in the region. In the past, the minority group has had a bit of a rocky relationship with the central government in Beijing.
In recent years, Uighurs have complained about a number of measures that they say discriminate against their religion by cracking down religious holidays, customs, and even long beards. Last year, Uighur shopkeepers were urged to sell alcohol and cigarettes, or else be shut down.
Meanwhile, China has blamed Uighur separatist groups for problems in the region, cracking down on the militants with deadly force. However, in recent years, rather than contain the conflict, China’s efforts seem to have caused it to spread outside of the region’s borders to Beijing, Kunming, Bangkok and Kyrgyzstan. In the last year, many Uighurs have fled China by using fake passports, and this latest directive seems targeted at tightening control over the minority group.
Of course, it obviously hasn’t sat well with Xinjiang residents. Al Jazeera records a few reactions on Weibo:
“I didn’t spend time and money getting a passport to become the focus of the government’s safeguarding or to ask for their instructions every time I go out on holiday,” said one incensed user from the border district of Tacheng, on the Twitter-like Sina Weibo platform.
“If citizens cannot enjoy even basic rights, how can we live? Would the government please give me a sensible reason for this?”
A second said: “Xinjiang is becoming stranger and stranger, regressing as time goes on.”
In June, Xinjiang’s top Communist Party official Zhang Chuanxian, wished residents a happy Ramadan as the State Council released a white paper praising the “unprecedented” amount of religious freedom in Xinjiang.
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