Aug 10, 2007

East Turkestan: Exercise is Intimidation

A joint military exercise by the members of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) is to be held in East Turkestan for the first time, suggesting it is directed in part at controlling the local population.

A joint military exercise by the members of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) is to be held in East Turkestan for the first time, suggesting it is directed in part at controlling the local population.

Below is an article published by the Uyghur Human Rights Project:

From August 9th to 17th [2007], more than 6,500 troops from member countries of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) will participate in “anti-terrorism” exercises in Urumchi, the capital of East Turkistan (also known as the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region or XUAR) and Chelyabinsk, Russia. Sixteen hundred Chinese troops will join the armed forces of the five other SCO members- Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan- in the joint military exercises, billed as “Peace Mission 2007”.  This is the first time that the SCO has conducted military exercises inside East Turkistan. The scale of the exercises suggests that they are aimed at controlling local populations and not just combating “terrorism”.

The military exercises are a stark reminder of the Chinese government’s domestic and international campaign of intimidation against the Uyghur people and the deteriorating human rights conditions in East Turkistan. The SCO has become another instrument by which the PRC [People’s Republic of China] seeks to suppress the basic human rights and democratic aspirations of the Uyghur people. By holding the final stage of the “anti-terrorism” exercises in Urumchi, the Chinese government is signaling its resolve to use the SCO as a tool of repression against Uyghurs. The presence of the SCO heads of state in Urumchi is meant to demonstrate that Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan stand behind the PRC in its treatment of East Turkistan’s Uyghur population. 

Beijing has extended its campaign of intimidation into neighboring countries by using bilateral agreements with SCO member and observer states to force the return of Uyghurs suspected of involvement in any kind of political activity disliked by the Chinese government. Uyghurs extradited to the PRC face serious human rights violations, including torture, unfair trials, and execution. In all of these cases, SCO governments are in clear violation of the principal of non-refoulement, which protects refugees from being returned to places where their lives or freedoms could be threatened. 

Recent examples of Uyghurs who have been extradited to the PRC from SCO member and observer states include Canadian citizen Huseyin Celil, now serving a life term in prison, who was detained in Uzbekistan in March 2006 while visiting relatives; activists Yusuf Kadir and Abdukadir Sidik, now detained or possibly executed, who were extradited from Kazakhstan; Ismail Semed, who was deported from Pakistan in 2003 and executed in China in February, 2007; and Osman Alihan, extradited in July 2007, also from Pakistan.

“We call on the member states of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization to address the human rights violations against Uyghurs at the upcoming SCO Summit in Bishkek,” said prominent Uyghur leader and human rights defender Rebiya Kadeer. “We ask the member states to respect the principle of non-refoulement and guarantee the rights of Uyghur political activists and refugees who fled to their respective countries.”

Since the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, Chinese authorities have utilized the “war on terror” as a pretext to repress all forms of dissent in East Turkistan, no matter how legitimate and peaceful, by creating an atmosphere of fear in which any Uyghur can be accused of “terrorism” and subjected to mistreatment in the PRC’s arbitrary and non-transparent legal system. In the name of “peace and stability”, Chinese authorities have repeatedly used heavy-handed and violent techniques against peaceful dissent and any assertions of a distinct Uyghur identity. If leaders in Beijing genuinely hope to achieve peace and stability, they must address the severe human rights violations that occur within the PRC’s borders, instead of intensifying intimidation and repression.