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China: Communist Newspaper Editor Prosecuted for Criticizing Uyghur Policy

The editor-in-chief of the Communist Party’s largest publication in western Xinjiang province, China, was dismissed from his job and will be prosecuted for “serious discipline breaches” that include questioning China’s policy to combat Islamist Uyghur terrorism in the region.

Zhao Xinyu (identified by some publications as Zhao Xinwei) was the editor-in-chief of the Xinjiang Daily, a state-run publication, until last week, when he was fired from his job after being investigated for disciplinary violations.

On Tuesday, the Chinese government announced that he is facing prosecution for “improperly discussing” Communist Party policies in public—specifically, “publicly mak[ing] comments in opposition” to the Communist Party, Reuters reports. He has also had his membership in the party revoked.

The government announcement regarding Zhao’s prosecution explains that he disagreed “in principle on major issues of national separatism, violence, terrorism, religious extremism and other opposition,” and that his “words and deeds were not in line with the centre or regional party committee.”

Xinjiang is home to most of China’s Muslim minority and has seen an increase in Islamist terrorism and corresponding government religious oppression in recent years. While the government has not specified what Zhao’s objectionable comments were, it appears likely they were related to tensions between the Uyghur minority and the government.

The New York Times identifies Zhao as an ethnic Han, the majority ethnic group in China, from Shanxi Province, who the Party sent to Xinjiang to run its propaganda newspaper there. It notes also that such an announcement against a Communist Party official is unusual, “a rare instance in which the party said it had purged someone for questioning or openly discussing policy,” as opposed to accusing the problematic person of graft or other corrupt activity.

Zhao will be tried using evidence from the Commission for Discipline Inspection in Xinjiang, run by the government he allegedly disparaged publicly. In addition to the substance of the comments, he will be tried for violating the law by “discussing party policy in an open manner.” It is unclear whether this means that Zhao published editorials contrary to the principles of the Communists.

Xinjiang has been at the center of an ideological struggle between Beijing and the minority Uyghur population, who are mostly Muslim. Beijing forbade Party members from fasting during Ramadan this year and banned all from doing so in a public manner. Identifying with a religion in general was banned in 2014 for Party officials. Islamic garb, including the burqa, was banned throughout the region that same year. Men with beards are banned from boarding public transportation.

Shops owned by Muslims were also forced this year to sell cigarettes and alcohol, both of which violate Muslim Sharia law.

Meanwhile, Islamist radicalism has become increasingly attractive for those in the region. A 2014 report indicated that hundreds of Chinese nationals, most Uyghurs, had joined the Islamic State and either stayed in Xinjiang to operate as agents there or began their journeys to Iraq and Syria.

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