Sun, May 03, 2015 - Page 9 News List

In China’s Elishku Township, propaganda drive replaces gunfire

By Benjamin Haas  /  AFP, ELISHKU, China

In the months since the carnage in Elishku Township, in China’s restive, mainly Muslim Xinjiang region, the place has acquired an Orwellian atmosphere, with loudspeakers perched atop 10m poles throughout the township blaring Chinese government propaganda on a constant loop.

The messages started being broadcast after a violent clash in July last year in which authorities say nearly 100 people died when militants attacked a police station. According to residents though, security forces opened fire on protestors.

The slogans are loudest in the township bazaar, the center of commerce and social life, but are even audible as farmers toil in the fields.

One message describes the “Seven Behaviors of a Religious Extremist” as including “quitting drinking and smoking, or refusing to drink with friends” and “refusing to open restaurants or shops during Ramadan,” a common practice across the Islamic world.

The Uighur-language lecture, read in a confident male voice, also promises rewards of up to 200,000 yuan (US$32,190) — more than 40 times the average annual income — for actions ranging from “effectively preventing terrorist activities” to reporting on those “engaging in illegal religious behavior.”

Villagers tolerate the constant drone and increased police presence, but say increased restrictions on movement are beginning to chip away at their livelihoods, preventing them seeking better prices for their crops elsewhere.

“Our only choice now is the state-set cotton price, take it or leave it, and it’s less and less every year,” said farmer Yusup, who grows cotton and wheat on his four-hectare plot, and would only give his first name.

Yusup’s house is down the street from the site of the face-off between villagers and soldiers and he was visibly tense when talking about the violence, saying his children were “traumatized.”

The collective punishment is acutely felt in an area where average income is a little more than US$2 a day, according to the Web site of the Yarkand County Government, which includes Elishku.

Behind the razor-wire-topped gates of Elishku’s government compound, roughly half the courtyard is occupied by crude wooden benches facing a stage that officials say is used for “political education.”

In the main building, inside the “Youth Education Room,” portraits of Mao Zedong (毛澤東) and former Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping (鄧小平) hang above a Chinese flag.

Posters headlined “Boycott illegal religious activities, maintain religious harmony and stability” showed 28 cartoon examples such as collecting contributions, loudspeakers on a mosque and unofficial rituals — including some with Buddhist or Christian emblems.

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