China Orders Muslim Uyghurs in Xinjiang to Surrender Passports ahead of Chinese New Year

By | Nov 29, 2016 06:41 PM EST

Armed Chinese police in Muslim-majority Xinjiang.(Photo : People's Armed Police)

China continues oppressing the Muslim Uyghurs that comprise most of the population in its violence-wracked Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region in the northwest by ordering millions of Uyghurs to surrender their passports to local police.

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While the forced passport surrenders also cover the ethnic Chinese Han population in Xinjiang, the move is primarily aimed at Muslims, especially Muslim Uyghurs, said human rights groups. Uyghurs account for 46 percent of the region's population (10 million) while Han Chinese comprise 40 percent (eight million). Seven percent of the population is Kazakh, another Muslim ethnic group.

The order only revealed last week but issued Oct. 19 came from the Shihezi Public Security Bureau Immigration Office in Xinjiang. Police claim the passports are being confiscated because of an "annual check."

The confiscations comes two months ahead of the Chinese New Year on January 27, 2017 and might indicate fears among the police that Muslims seeking independence for Xinjiang might be plotting surprises in this massive event that sees the largest internal migration of people in the world.

Under the new police rules, inhabitants of Xinjiang have to seek permission from local authorities to leave the region. Those that refuse will be barred from leaving China.

Police gave no reason for the passport confiscations or how long this state of affairs will continue. The World Uyghur Congress, a human rights group focused on the Uyghurs and based in Germany, said the confiscations are a calculated move to restrict the movements of the Uyghurs, whom China sees as separatists out to destroy the unity of the Communist Party of China.

"Although the regulations ostensibly target all residents, Chinese authorities in the past have taken clear steps to limit mobility rights for the Uyghur community in particular," said the Congress.

Han Chinese oppression of the Uyghurs is relentless. In previous years, Beijing officially banned fasting and Muslim rituals during a month of Ramadan.

Xinjiang is strategically vital to China since its much-hyped Silk Road Economic Belt project runs through the region.  Xinjiang is also China's largest natural gas-producing region.

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