More than 200 detained in Chinese Xinjiang province

Reports emerging from China’s Xinjiang region reveal that more than 200 Muslim Uighurs have been arrested over the past six weeks. The 232 total detainees have been brought up on charges ranging from possessing and disseminating material classified as “violent or terrorist,” or merely receiving such content. It is unclear whether or not all individuals detained on terror charges have been charged or sentenced for any alleged offenses. Xinjiang’s regional government, perceived largely as a voice piece for the national government, has reacted swiftly with increasingly harsh measures that have criminalized downloading, disseminating or spreading ambiguously labeled, “terror-related” material.

A growing number of arrests and the exacerbation of already poor regional relations have been attributed to what has been described by Chinese officials as acts of violence fueled by Islamic extremism on one hand, and by others as an expression of extreme discontent derived from oppressive Chinese policies on the other. In March, more than 200 were either killed or wounded in a knife attack carried out by separatists in the southwestern city of Kunming that led to unprecedented security crack downs yet failed to prevent a similar attack in Urumqi, the capital of Xinjiang province, and the first attack perpetrated by suicide bombers on a busy Xinjiang train station. Chinese President Xi Jinping has urged authorities to take decisive action against “terrorist forces,” and has advocated preventive, first-strike policies against Uighur separatists.

Many of those who lobby for Uighur rights will point to mounting frustration, poor development and education support, and exclusionary policies as the cause for increasing violence. Leading Uighurs have been jailed or forced to live under house arrest, while others have been denied the ability to leave the country to ply for support outside of China.   As growing numbers of Chinese Han continue to relocate to Western China, dissent is expected to rise as many within the Uighur community feel that they are being forced out of their historic home, and relegated to the margins of Chinese society. Uighur separatists have already promised further attacks on targets throughout China in general and Xinjiang in particular, and, if recent reports are any indication, will drive an even greater wedge between the two sides.

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