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Crackdown haunts China's Uighurs

Crackdown haunts China's Uighurs

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From the Washington Post. URUMQI, CHINA -- A hulking shell of a department store towers over this city's Uighur quarter, a reminder of what can be lost here by speaking up.

For years, it was the flagship of the business empire of Rebiya Kadeer, an exiled leader and matriarch of the Uighur people. If Chinese government accounts are accurate, she helped instigate fierce ethnic riots that killed hundreds and injured thousands here last July -- an accusation she vehemently denies.

Still a prominent landmark even in its ruin, the Rebiya Kadeer Trade Center was partially confiscated by the government in 2006 when Kadeer's son was charged with tax evasion, although tenants were allowed to stay. After the riots, it was shuttered and slated for destruction. The government said the building had failed fire inspections, but it seems in no hurry to set a demolition date.

The forsaken structure makes for an effective deterrent. Last summer's chaos has been replaced with a level of fear that is striking even for one of China's most repressed regions. Residents are afraid of attracting any attention, afraid of being in the wrong place at the wrong time. But they seem most terrified of talking.

"Every single family on this block is missing someone," said Hasiya, a 33-year-old Uighur who asked that her full name not be used. Her younger brother is serving a 20-year prison sentence for stealing a carton of cigarettes during the riots. "Talking about our sorrow might just increase it. So we swallow it up inside."

Fear is not unwarranted here. For years now, those caught talking to journalists have been questioned, monitored and sometimes detained indefinitely. More striking is that residents now say they cannot talk even with one another.

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