Aug 31, 2015

East Turkestan: 45 Uyghurs Arrested over Illegal Border Crossing

On 29 August 2015, the World Uyghur Congress (WUC) released a statement expressing deep concern for the 45 Uyghurs recently arrested in East Turkestan.  The Chinese authorities claimed that the detained individuals were involved in "organising, leading or participating in terrorist groups, funding terrorist groups and organising others to cross the border illegally". Newly adopted Chinese legislation – especially the counter-terrorism act – has given Beijing the necessary tools to arrest and charge virtually anyone without the need to respect standard legal procedures. In its statement, the WUC calls on the international community, including NGOs, States and other bodies to exert pressure on the Chinese leadership to cease its crackdown on minorities.

Below is a statement published by The World Uyghur Congress (WUC)

The World Uyghur Congress (WUC) expresses its deep concern for the 45 Uyghurs who were recently charged in East Turkestan for illegal border crossings. Trials like these are often conducted in secret without adequate due process with the state merely publicizing the outcome following the sentencing procedure. We therefore call on the Chinese government to act fairly and transparently, and to reveal credible evidence ostensibly supporting these charges.

Courts across the region, in ten separate cases, convicted Uyghurs on charges of “organizing, leading and participating in terror organizations”. Many of the charges made typical claims that those attempting to leave the country were escaping for the purpose of joining international terror networks – a claim that has yet to be substantiated, but acts as a convenient justification for its continued harsh response. Despite insisting that the courts have zero tolerance for crimes relating to terrorism, the same courts failed to disclose how those sentenced were connected with real terror operations.

Over the last two years it has also become increasingly common for the government to sentence Uyghurs without the proper observance of legal procedures. Cases are taken up quickly and often defendants are not provided adequate protections like legal representation or access to necessary evidence to mount a defence. It has also become a regular practice for Chinese authorities to arrest and sentence Uyghurs and others close to important dates in the Chinese calendar and for the Communist Party as a symbolic gesture. On September 23rd of last year, Uyghur scholar, Ilham Tohti, was sentenced to a life term just prior to the National Day of the PRC, which falls on October 1st each year.

It must also be recognized that newly adopted legislation has provided the government with the necessary tools to arrest and charge virtually anyone within its purview or interest. Of most particular concern has also been the adoption of overly broad and vague counter-terrorism legislation – legislation that has been called “little more than a license to commit human rights abuses” and a “[contravention of] human rights law” by Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, respectively.

Under the new legislation, Uyghurs simply looking to provide religious instruction to their children may now be accused of participating in “extremist conduct”. The law also allows for the detention of those that “display items advocating terrorism or extremism”, and in the context of Xinjiang today, this may often be interpreted as women wearing veils or headscarves or men with long beards.

Such a response to Uyghur flight does not address the root causes of ethnic conflict or the motivations for those attempting to leave the country. Basic Uyghur life has been criminalised to the extent that many are unable to practice their religion, speak their own language, move freely within China or to garner equal treatment and non-discrimination from other ethnic groups or the state.

The WUC therefore calls on the international community, including NGOs, states and other bodies, to recognize the deteriorating situation in East Turkestan and to exert pressure on the Chinese leadership to discontinue its harshly restrictive policies. It must be understood that it is in the interest of China to temper their attitudes towards Uyghurs to ensure that Uyghur rights are respected and that true ethnic harmony may eventually be achieved.