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China detained hundreds of Uyghurs in its northwestern Xinjiang region during a new round of its “Strike Hard” campaign in the month leading up to last week’s Chinese Communist Party congress to ensure that the predominantly Muslim ethnic group would not stir up trouble, a Uyghur source and regional authorities said.

Chinese authorities announced the "Strike Hard" crackdown on "violent terrorist activities" in May 2014 after officials blamed suicide bombers for an attack in the regional capital Urumqi (in Chinese, Wulumuqi) that left 31 people dead. Many Uyghurs believe that China intentionally orchestrated the tragedy to launch the widespread crackdown on them as a people.

The detentions began in July, months ahead of the congress, which ended on Sunday. During the congress, Xi Jinping was granted an unprecedented third term of office and designated a leader on par with late Chairman Mao Zedong.

In early October, authorities implemented a travel ban in Xinjiang to prevent residents from leaving the region unless absolutely necessary. The ban came on the heels of strict residential lockdowns from August to September that prevented Uyghurs and other Turkic minorities from leaving their homes. Some reportedly died of malnourishment or untreated illnesses. 

During the most recent crackdown, authorities rounded up Uyghurs who had recently turned 18, those released from internment camps in recent years and those who managed to elude monitoring in recent years, said a source with knowledge of the situation, who requested anonymity for safety reasons. 

Police frequently sounded sirens in towns and cities to intimidate Uyghur residents during the congress, he said. 

An officer at the Xinha police station in Aksu (Akesu) prefecture told RFA that authorities were “safeguarding stability and preventing three things from happening — large, medium and small incidents.” 

When RFA called the home of Elijan Obulhesen, the SWAT team leader of the Hotan (Hetian) City Police Department, his mother answered the phone and said that Obulhesen had been busy detaining people during the current crackdown.

“He has been [busy] since the Strike Hard campaign started,” she said. “He works and sleeps in his office. … He said he’d be really busy because of the party congress and asked me not to be upset if he couldn’t visit me during this time.”

When asked if Obulhesen told her how many people had been detained so far, the woman estimated the number to be between 1,000 and 2,000 people. 

An officer in Ghulja (Yining) told RFA that police had detained 125 people during the recent crackdown because they were “members of the dangerous generation,” a reference to Uyghurs who eluded arrest in 2017, when authorities arbitrarily started detaining adult Uyghurs and other Turkic minorities in a vast network of “re-education” camps and in prisons, despite no evidence they had committed crimes.

The Chinese Communist Party branch secretary of lower Panjim village in Ghulja said the most recent detentions there took place in late September and early October and were part of a crackdown before the party congress.

“They were mainly youth born after 2000 from the dangerous generation,” he said, adding that the names of those detained were based on a list issued by regional and prefectural officials.

Young Uyghurs are “easily influenced by harmful influence and are easily misled, so we are explaining that they need ‘education’ for a while,” the branch secretary said. “In addition, some had made mistakes by contacting individuals on the watch list.”

Translated by Mamatjan Juma and Alim Seytoff for RFA Uyghur. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.

This content originally appeared on Radio Free Asia and was authored by By Shohret Hoshur for RFA Uyghur.