Chinese media backpedals on Xinjiang passport order reports
Deleted story confirms accounts by NGOs, independent outlets
A mosque in Urumqi the capital of China's Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region. A state media report describing a policy requiring the region's residents to hand in their passports was later deleted and replaced by another report saying that passports will only be taken from individuals with suspected terrorism links. (Photo supplied)
Echoing reports from independent media and Uyghur groups, a Chinese government mouthpiece said authorities in Xinjiang had ordered all citizens to turn in their passports for "examination" — only to delete the article two days later.
State-run Global Times published an article Nov. 23 titled "Xinjiang tightens passport policy to maintain social order: official," quoting local police officers and residents in multiple areas of Xinjiang province.
"Northwest China's Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region has tightened passport regulations, requiring all residents to hand in their passports to local police stations for examination and management," the Global Times reported.
Two days later the story was deleted from the Global Times website, without correction.
On Nov. 25, a new Global Times report noted that: "sources from Xinjiang police denied that the government is holding ordinary citizens' passports, noting that the government only holds passports of those who are suspected of having links to terrorism."
Both articles noted that the public security bureau in Shihezi posted a statement on its official Sina Weibo account last month saying all citizens would have to hand in their passports. Both reports further mentioned that the statement was later deleted.
The Munich-based World Uyghur Congress in October said they had seen photographs of similar such notices posted in at least four counties.
The congress noted that while the order ostensibly affects all ethnicities, "Chinese authorities in the past have taken clear steps to limit mobility rights for the Uyghur community in particular."
Radio Free Asia also reported that local police departments in at least four areas independently confirmed the passport recall. Human Rights Watch (HRW) further reported that officials said the order was handed down at the regional level and criticized the Chinese government's policy.
"Seizing the passports of an entire region violates both Chinese and international law," said Sophie Richardson, HRW's China director. "It does nothing to combat crimes or produce the 'stability' Beijing says it wants. Authorities should immediately abandon these arbitrary, discriminatory policies."
The official order follows other tightened security measures aimed at controlling the predominantly Muslim region.
In June, the government announced Xinjiang residents must provide biodata including DNA samples, voiceprints, fingerprints, and three-dimensional photos to apply for passports and other travel documents. The measure was announced just before the holy month of Ramadan, at the same time a slew of local anti-Muslim acts were passed, which included barring officials from fasting and ordering Uyghur-run restaurants to stay open.
Beijing has called the crackdown in Xinjiang necessary to combat terrorism and separatism.
Some Chinese have defended the government's harsh measures noting that Christianity, too, had suffered greatly under Beijing's directives.
"I think religious freedom is not an issue in Xinjiang as Islam has been successfully spread throughout the region. Their development is far better than the Catholic Church," argued an underground Catholic living in the capital city Urumqi.
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