Dec 30, 2011

East Turkestan: WUC Condemns Beijing's Reporting

Following the deaths yesterday of seven ethnic Uyghurs, Beijing has refused to allow any independent verification of the allegations levelled against them as the Chinese authorities continue to curtail religious and cultural expression in East Turkestan.

Below is a press release by the World Uyghur Congress:

According to the state-controlled Xinhua news agency, on 28 December 2011 seven Uyghurs were shot dead in an alleged hostage rescue in Guma (Chinese: Pishan) county, Hotan Prefecture, East Turkestan, and four others were wounded and arrested. The Chinese authorities claimed a group of “violent terrorists” were responsible for the kidnapping of two people and immediately linked the kidnapping – in typical fashion – to “a surge in religious extremism.” So far, there have not been any independent witness accounts of the incident, and the WUC therefore calls on the international community to view the official account with caution.

“This incident shows that Chinese government’s policy of arbitrary killing Uyghurs continues,” said WUC president Rebiya Kadeer on Thursday. “As in the past, Chinese security forces killed the alleged perpetrators and then announced that they were “terrorists”. These kinds of incidents happen all the time. We call on the international community to view the Chinese government’s account of the incident with caution. We call on the U.S., United Nations and European Union as well as the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC) to raise concern with Chinese officials over the arbitrary killings and the extreme repression being carried out in East Turkestan.”

Official characterizations of such incidents as terrorism are particularly worrying since they are presented without clear and demonstrated evidence. The Chinese government regularly invokes the “three evils” of terrorism, separatism, and extremism to justify repressive measures in the Uyghur region and to crack down on any form of peaceful Uyghur dissent.

The past month has been marked by an increased crackdown on peaceful religious activities in East Turkestan, including but not limited to: tight controls over the Muslim holiday of Ramadan, ban on veiling and beards, prohibition of religious publications, detention on charges of hoarding illegal religious materials, arrest of Uyghurs for attending a Koran study group, “hundred day crackdown” launched in Aksu, and continuing controls over women religious specialists. Uyghurs have long practiced a moderate form of Sunni Islam, and religious extremism has no roots in Uyghurs’ practice of Islam.

“This tightened control over the Uyghur population in East Turkestan has further increased tensions and discontent in the region, and as long as the Chinese authorities do not guarantee basic human rights to the Uyghurs, the situation on ground will remain tense,” said Rebiya Kadeer. “We believe that deaths and arrests at the hands of Chinese authorities in East Turkestan number even higher than those recently carried out by dictators in the Middle East.”

While the WUC has not yet been able to obtain detailed information on today´s incident in Guma, a predominantly Uyghur area, Uyghurs reached by phone gave unverified accounts of a higher death toll with up to nine victims. People also told the WUC that the police were confiscating mobile phones to prevent calls, messages and photos from getting out of East Turkestan, which casts serious doubts about the real nature of the incident.

The WUC therefore calls on the Chinese authorities to conduct an independent investigation into the events and to conduct fair trials for detained individuals.

The WUC also calls upon the Chinese government to adhere to its obligation to respect human rights while countering alleged terrorism, as set forth in the UN Global Counter-Terrorism Strategy and international counter-terrorism framework.

Under the global war on terror, the oppression of the Uyghur people has drastically increased, since Chinese authorities found in 9/11 the perfect excuse to attribute any spark of violence in the region to the “three evils.”

One month after the Hotan and Kashgar incidents in July 2011, the Chinese government implemented a two-month “Strike Hard” campaign in East Turkestan “in order to strengthen anti-terrorism efforts.” Such security campaigns are characterized by arbitrary arrests, enforced disappearances, and accelerated trials, and Chinese authorities frequently use them to target peaceful expressions of Uyghur identity inside East Turkestan. According to Amnesty International (AI), under these types of “Strike Hard” campaigns, “tens of thousands of people are reported to have been detained for investigation in the region, and hundreds, possibly thousands, have been charged or sentenced under the Criminal Law; many Uyghurs are believed to have been sentenced to death and executed for alleged “separatist” or “terrorist” offences.”

In November 2011, Chinese authorities announced they were contemplating new legislation to define terrorism more precisely, raising fears among human rights groups that the government would use these new laws to increase its crackdown on Uyghurs in East Turkestan.