Over the past year China arrested nearly 1,300 people for endangering state security in the restive western region of Xinjiang, according to a story in the state press. The story (here in Chinese, and cited here in this AFP piece) says 1,154 of the suspects were formally charged. Those numbers are nearly double what was reported for the entire country in 2006. And even the 2006 figures represented a big increase over 2005, as we noted previously.
So why the big rise last year? Xinjiang was plagued by a series of assaults, most notably just before the Beijing Olympics when two men in the town of Kashgar used a truck and homemade explosives to attack a group of border police, killing 17. The authorities also launched a campaign against the “three forces” of terrorism, separatism and religious extremism. That raises the possibility that people who in normal times would have been accused of more common crimes were lumped in with legitimate state security threats during a tense Olympic year. Add to that people who may have been conducting nonviolent protests on religious or ethnic grounds but were labeled security threats.
“The key question is whether these prosecutions are really state security crimes as defined in the criminal law,” says Nicholas Bequelin, a Hong Kong-based researcher for the NGO Human Rights Watch. “If that is the case, this is alarming.”
Bequelin says a final analysis of the numbers requires more information, something that’s rare for these types of cases. So far the report only raises more questions, including what the state security arrest figures would be if Tibet, which was wracked by violent protests in March, were added to the total.