The year 2014 in China was characterized by continued censorship, the detention of political opponents, forcible resettlement and other abuses. Minority populations, particularly Tibetans and Uyghurs, were especially affected by security crackdowns, restrictions on religious freedom and the detention of rights activists. This included the conviction of Uyghur academic Ilham Tohti in September on separatism charges in a closed-door trial condemned by the European Union and others. He lost his subsequent appeal in November and was sentenced to life in prison. He had been detained in January, along with seven of his Uyghur students, who were also sentenced to between three and eight years in prison.

Tibetan human rights activists, including the Tibetan writer Woeser and singer Gebey, were also harassed during the year. In December, prominent monk Karma Tsewang, an outspoken language and culture activist, was also detained on 'state security' charges along with 16 of his supporters. Soon over 4,000 people signed a petition for his release but he was later sentenced to two years in prison, while another monk was sentenced to 10 years on unspecified charges. The same month, well-known Mongolian rights activist Hada was released from four years of extra-judicial house arrest, following a 15-year prison sentence on 'separatism' charges, but remained in police custody under residential surveillance.

As in previous years, Tibetan activists were assaulted or denied medical care while in detention before being released from custody shortly before their deaths. In March, Goshul Lobsang died soon after being released on medical parole after reportedly suffering torture and a savage beating in jail that left him unable to swallow food. In December, just days after being released from prison, political prisoner Tenzin Choedak also died after prolonged abuse and ill-treatment in prison. He was less than six years into his 15-year sentence.

The National Security Commission, formed by President Xi Jinping in 2013, had its first meeting in April with a mandate to address issues such as separatism, religious extremism and terrorism. In Xinjiang, China's most westerly region, this has translated into increasingly restrictive policing of the large Uyghur population in response to political dissent and unrest. While some of these incidents have been serious, including attacks on civilians, national policies and local security forces often fail to distinguish between violent crimes and legitimate activities such as peaceful protests or activism. Human rights groups have argued that the government's repressive and indiscriminate treatment of the region's Uyghur population has exacerbated the situation and contributed to further violence.

The year 2014 saw a number of tragic attacks related to ongoing tensions within Xinjiang. This included the massacre of more than 30 people in March outside a train station in Kunming, Yunnan province by a group subsequently reported to be Xinjiang separatists. In May, two cars loaded with explosives also ploughed through a busy shopping street in Urumqi, the capital of Xinjiang province, killing around 30 people. Both incidents were condemned by the President of the World Uyghur Congress (WUC), Rebiya Kadeer, though she called on China to refrain from collectively punishing the whole population and drew attention to the role that state policies played in encouraging the violence. However, following the Urumqi bombing, China announced a year-long anti-terrorism crackdown, with Xinjiang Party Secretary Zhang Chunxian asserting the necessity for 'unconventional measures' in the 'people's war' against terrorism. These included numerous raids on mosques, house-to-house searches, harassment and other abuses by police, with several rights groups reporting increased arbitrary arrests and disappearances. Executions were also carried out throughout the year.

Violence in the region peaked over the summer following a riot in Yarkand that resulted in 96 deaths, according to official sources, including 37 civilians and 59 persons identified by the government as religious extremists. However, the WUC alleged that the actual death toll was much higher, with hundreds of Uyghur civilians killed in the ensuing crackdown by security forces. The details surrounding these events are also contested, with state outlets claiming that the violence began with a premeditated attack on a police station by jihadist militants, while the WUC and other Uyghur sources have suggested that a recent security crackdown on religious practices and reports of police abuses had triggered the protests.

One of the chief sources of resentment among many Uyghurs is the state's repression of various religious and cultural forms of expression, often on the grounds of security. In August, for example, authorities in the city of Karamay banned men with long beards and people with headscarves, veils or clothing with the crescent moon and star from boarding public buses. The local Urumqi parliament also announced a move at the end of the year to ban Islamic face veils in public, while authorities forced Muslim students to eat during Ramadan, threatening students who refused with expulsion. In the wake of new regulations in Xinjiang that went into effect in January 2015, prohibiting the spread of religious propaganda online or clothing with religious messages that could promote extremism, a Uyghur man was reportedly sentenced in March 2015 to six years' imprisonment for growing a beard and 'inciting' his wife, who also received a two-year sentence, to wear a burqa. These restrictions have played a major role in triggering opposition, including deadly attacks, across the region.

Ongoing labour migration of ethnic Han into Xinjiang, particularly to urban areas in the north of the region such as Urumqi, has been another source of conflict. This has often occurred through the state-sponsored creation of new towns and cities populated predominantly by Han, often near areas seen as separatist troublespots. Tensions were therefore inflamed by comments in May by Zhang Chunxian, suggesting that China's 'one child' policy should in future be imposed on all ethnic groups in the region: at present, in line with its national policy towards ethnic minorities, the government permits Uyghur families to have two to three children each. Another policy, reportedly developed during the year by local authorities in Cherchen County in southern Xinjiang, introduced a reward system to incentivize Uyghur and Han inter-marriage with RMB 10,000 (US$1,600) annual payments for up to five years and other benefits.

Further urban development policies in Xinjiang will lead to the creation of dozens of new cities and towns. One is planned for construction near Hotan, a city with considerable symbolic importance for Uyghur culture. Local residents have reported that Uyghur farm owners in the area have been forced to sell their land for below market rates, which would otherwise be taken without remuneration by the government as part of a 'development policy'. Those who have resisted forced evictions or land grabs have been detained or arrested. The new cities project will be completed by the majority Han Xinjiang Production and Construction Corps, or Bingtuan, a semi-military organization that is largely staffed by majority Han and is widely resented by the local Uyghur population.

Poverty and unemployment among Uyghurs is worst in the south of Xinjiang, despite government attempts to boost urban development through special economic zones, such as in Kashgar, established in 2011 and scheduled for completion in 2020. Kashgar has partnered with eastern provinces such as Shenzhen and investment companies to secure investment. Zhongkun, for example, has been active in developing tourism in the city but has been accused of exploitative practices that do not benefit Uyghur residents. Their livelihoods and identity have been further threatened by the ongoing demolition of Kashgar's old city, an area of particular cultural significance to the Uyghur community. The urban redesign project aims to demolish some 65,000 homes and resettle over 200,000 Uyghur residents, 85 per cent of Kashgar's old city. Though some Uyghurs have welcomed the opportunity to live in modern housing with amenities unavailable in their former mud-brick homes, many feel the forced relocation from the ancient centre to high-rise apartments on the outskirts is more of an assault on culture than a sign of modernity.

The Chinese government also continued to pursue a range of repressive policies in Tibet during 2014, characterized by forced resettlement, restrictions on freedom of belief and other discriminatory policies. In recent years, Tibetans have protested against their treatment through a series of high-profile self-immolations in Tibet and elsewhere in China. In 2014, according to the International Campaign for Tibet, the number of self-immolations since 2011 reached 135, of which 22 involved women and 24 involved those 18 years old or younger. Authorities in Tibet have responded to these incidents by detaining and arresting family members and friends of the deceased. Since 2013 the police have warned Tibetans that anyone accused of abetting self-immolators would be charged with homicide. In 2012 police were offering around RMB 50,000 for tips related to planned self-immolations or protests, and by February 2015 the Tibetan provincial government had raised the reward to RMB 300,000 for information on terrorist activities – a broad term that reportedly includes 'thought, speech or behaviour' undermining the state.

Throughout 2014 police stations were set up in Buddhist monasteries across Tibet, accompanied by 'patriotic education' campaigns targeting the spread of certain Buddhist teachings. Appeals to the Qinghai People's Congress in January 2014 to limit religious restrictions and end police presence in monasteries were disregarded. In July, officials in Tibet issued regulations on temporary prohibition of freedom of movement and religion, prohibiting Tibetans from participating in the Great Prayer Festival in Ladakh, India, one of the most important Tibetan Buddhist festivals that includes special teachings by the Dalai Lama. Later in the year, at least 26 nuns were expelled from the prestigious Jhada Nunnery after it refused to denounce the Dalai Lama in September.

In 2014, the State Council also announced the completion of a massive relocation project of Tibetan nomads from multiple grassland provinces around the Tibetan Autonomous Region, a year ahead of schedule. Those who resisted relocation from traditional herding lands to overcrowded resettlements have had their personal documents and belongings seized or been detained by the police. Mass resettlement in recent years has already resulted in the forcible relocation of more than 2 million Tibetans, including hundreds of thousands of nomadic herders rehoused in 'New Socialist Villages', in some cases impoverishing them or making them dependent on state subsidies.

While only around a quarter of the population in the Tibetan Autonomous Region are currently urban, this proportion is rising rapidly, driven in part by Han labour migration. Urbanization has been closely tied to the state's large-scale development programme in the region and the significant economic growth that has resulted, with government figures reporting a doubling in average per capita incomes among nomads between 2005 and 2010. This has been sustained by recent investments in infrastructure such as the Beijing-Lhasa railway, completed in 2006 and responsible for a substantial increase in business and tourism within Tibet. However, rapid in-migration of Han Chinese, coupled with the forced relocation of Tibetans to Lhasa, has had significant impacts on Tibetan traditional culture that some argue far outweigh the economic benefits, including the destruction of historically significant areas of Lhasa as the city's booming tourism industry has driven rapid redevelopment of the old centre.

Nevertheless, urban areas can offer the possibility of better life outcomes for Tibetans, including women, who are sometimes able to enjoy a measure of freedom from oppressive gender norms. While in rural areas Tibetan girls are routinely denied access to education, relocation to cities is slowly creating more opportunities for them to attend school. Tibetan women who work in urban settings also earn their own salaries and therefore do not need to rely on family land or livestock, enabling them to be more independent. However, Tibetan women who travel outside Tibet to eastern cities such as Beijing or Shanghai often experience discrimination in areas such as employment, housing and education for their children. Similar barriers remain for Tibetans in general and other minorities such as Uyghurs, excluding them from the promised social or economic benefits of urbanization.

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