Uyghur Farmers Appeal, To No Avail
A Uyghur farmer talks about his struggle against forced crop production in China’s northwestern Xinjiang Autonomous Region.
A farmer from China’s impoverished northwestern Xinjiang region was turned away by authorities in Beijing after he went there demanding compensation for a failed compulsory crop plan.
Hakim Siyit, a farmer from Yengisar county, in Xinjiang’s western Kashgar prefecture, blamed the secretary of the communist party’s county branch for the plan’s failure, which called for all farmers in the county to grow the same crop and did not anticipate oversupply.
According to China’s law on the Popularization of Agricultural Technology, any entity causing loss to farmers through the forced adoption of technology is required to repay total damages.
Siyit made his way to China’s State Council in Beijing last September to lobby on behalf of his fellow farmers. When he arrived, hundreds of other petitioners waiting to file their grievances were registering with the Council according to their home region.
In an attempt to draw Beijing’s attention, Siyit shot a long video of the farmers telling their tale. A brief excerpt.
“There were eleven people from Xinjiang out of nearly 700 people in total. I was the only Uyghur there. I did not know what to do. I only speak a little Chinese. I was worried that they might take me somewhere and no one would know about it,” Siyit, a member of the mostly Muslim Uyghur ethnic group, said.
“A Chinese man came and asked why I was there. I tried to explain what had happened in our county, but the man said he could not understand what I was saying and took me to the Public Affairs Office of Xinjiang in Beijing so that he could talk to me through a Uyghur translator…After taking me there, they locked me up in a hotel room,” he said.
Siyit said that he was not allowed to leave the hotel and was refused an explanation as to why he was being held.
Promised an investigation
Later, two Uyghurs from the Kashgar Public Affairs Office took him with them and installed him in a guard’s room with another man.
“They told me not to leave. I said ‘We are not animals and we have the right to file complaints and report problems.’ I told them that they could not just detain me, as I had come all the way [from Xinjiang] on behalf of my people,” Siyit said.
Eventually, police officers from Yengisar county came to take Siyit home.
“I took my bag and tried to escape, but they dragged me back and told me to return with them. They said that I had spent so much [money] to go to Beijing, and promised me that the prefecture-level government would investigate the problem,” he said.
Siyit told the police officers that he had spent nearly 2,000 Yuan (U.S. $290) during his 23 day journey to Beijing. He was told that all of his expenses would be paid if he would agree to return.
“They gave me 100 Yuan (U.S. $15) before I took the train. I asked them about the rest and they said it would be handled when we returned. But that never happened. That was the end of it,” Siyit said.
‘They will weep’
Siyit claims that a compulsory “long bean” production plan was put into effect in 2007 for Yengisar county in Xinjiang’s western Kashgar prefecture, resulting in heavy financial losses for farmers when harvest supply grossly overshot demand.
Later that year the plan was repeated with similar results. In all, Siyit says, the farmers of Yengisar county suffered nearly $50 million Yuan (U.S. $7.3 million) in lost profit, loans that they could not repay, and equipment they could no longer use.
“You can dial any random number [in Yengisar] and ask about long beans…they will weep if you ask them about it,” Siyit said.
Siyit said that the 12 villages in Yengisar county have a combined population of 240,000 and that Yin should have expected that forcing everyone to grow the same crop would lead to oversupply.
“Being the secretary, he should have known that the supply would be much higher than the demand, and there would a lot of waste,” he said.
“If only the secretary had organized it so that one village would grow long beans, another would grow tomatoes, another peppers, and another eggplants…” he said.
Asked whether Li or the party branch of Kashgar prefecture was ultimately responsible for the failed crop policy, Siyit replied “Is it not true that what children do depends on the parents?”
Siyit said that he and several other farmers have been trying for over two years to file a complaint about the planning policies of Yin Xiaoliang, secretary of the communist party’s Yengisar County Branch.
In those two years, he was detained by county authorities for 15 days in Yengisar and, after vowing to continue his fight, has since been bounced around to several departments at the county, prefectural, regional, and national level.
“There are few places left that I haven’t been to for this. I went to the Xinjiang regional government in Urumqi five times. I went to Beijing once. To Kashgar, I made 13 or 14 trips in total,” Siyit said.
Siyit created a film documenting the reaction of the farmers to news that they would be forced to plant long beans again not long after the failure of the first crop plan, but officials weren’t interested.
“Over the last year and half, no one at the meetings of the disciplinary inspection committees was interested at looking at the video. Not even at the autonomous region’s government level. I literally had to thrust the video into their hands for them to take it,” Siyit said.
“They did not investigate, only saying that such things happen. Around the time of Eid [the holiday marking the end of Muslim Ramadan] the police came and warned me, telling me to be quiet or I might become a victim,” he said.
“Even here, in our county, the traffic police detained me three or four times…I escaped towards Urumqi and that is the situation now.”
A government official with the Disciplinary Inspection Committee of Kashgar prefecture, who did not provide his name, said he was aware of the farmers’ petition.
“Originally we considered going to Yengisar country together with an agricultural business management group to investigate the case, but when we asked permission [from deputy secretary of the prefecture’s party committee Zhang Jian], he stopped us. We were told ‘You shouldn’t go, let the county leader investigate first,’” the official said.
When asked if it was correct procedure to have the county’s party secretary investigate a complaint brought against him, the official replied “I know it doesn’t sound right, but perhaps the prefectural officials have their own considerations…To manage a whole county is not that easy.”
“Of course [the prefectural officials] will protect him. The county and prefecture should have same viewpoint and the county will carry out the prefecture’s order. If the higher-level officials don’t protect the lower-level officials, how would they expect them to follow orders later on?” the official said.
Siyit said that he plans to continue his fight, despite the hardships he has faced, so that he can bring justice to the farmers of Yengisar county.
“I have no regrets for what I have done. When I was at the police station, I told them that I would continue to seek compensation for the 50 million yuan loss as soon as I was free,” Siyit said.
“I just wanted to go [to Beijing] for the benefit of people, hoping to get a good answer. The fact that I did not know Chinese cost me a lot…It was as if I could not speak and I could only weep for my complaints,” he said.
Original reporting in Uyghur by Shohrat. Uyghur service director: Dolkun Kamberi. Written for the Web in English by Joshua Lipes.