Jul 11, 2008

East Turkestan: Five Uyghurs killed in Raid

Active ImagePolice in the Xinjiang capital, Urumqi, shot dead five ethnic Uyghurs in a raid on July 8. The state's Muslim Uyghur population denies they are terrorists and accuse the Chinese of using the Olympics as a pretext to suppress dissent voices.

Below is a press release issued by the Uyghur American Association :

According to Chinese state media reports, five Uyghurs were shot to death by police in Urumchi, the regional capital of East Turkistan (also known as Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region) on July 9 [2008]. The Xinhua News Agency reported that the five were members of a 15-member criminal gang, including five women and 10 men, which had trained for “holy war” and had wielded knives, injuring one policeman, during the raid. Two other Uyghurs were said to have been injured in the raid. Xinhua also reported that three men in the group had been implicated in a recent stabbing at a beauty salon in Urumchi.

No independent sources have verified the official version of events. In addition, the Chinese-language Xinhua report of the incident made no mention of the "holy war" training or intent to harm Han Chinese people that were included in the English-language Xinhua report. In recent months, as the Beijing Olympic Games have drawn closer, officials in the People’s Republic of China (PRC) have intensified the persecution of Uyghurs in East Turkistan, while simultaneously ratcheting up claims of Uyghur terrorism and religious extremism.

The Uyghur American Association (UAA) has learned of unofficial accounts of the Urumchi raid that are at odds with the official version of events. According to these accounts, the 15 young Uyghurs were not religious extremists, and were merely gathered peacefully in an apartment in the Chen Guang residential area of Urumchi. After police used teargas on the premises and entered the location without any warning or call to surrender, the unarmed young men and women fled the house into an open field, where police fired at them with machine guns.

“We are unequivocally opposed to any kind of violence, and we can see from recent history that PRC authorities do not hesitate to use violence on their own citizens, especially Uyghurs and Tibetans,” said human rights leader and Uyghur American Association president Rebiya Kadeer. “The experience of Uyghurs has shown that the Beijing regime is prone to manipulating threats of religious extremism and terrorism in order to crack down on peaceful dissent. Therefore, we must evaluate allegations such as these with extreme caution.”

Official media reports have asserted that Chinese police found no firearms or explosives in the apartment, but found a number of knives. However, it should be noted that traditional Uyghur knives can be found in almost every Uyghur residence, and that knives are commonly kept for cultural and traditional purposes, without any intent to harm others.

UAA calls upon the PRC government to provide evidence to the international community regarding its allegations of the criminal nature of the 15 Uyghurs, and to ensure that any criminal proceedings carried out with regard to the ten surviving Uyghurs are held in a free and fair court, in accordance with international legal norms. UAA also urges the international community to ask Beijing to provide a full accounting of the raid, and more broadly to cease the intense persecution of Uyghurs in the name of terrorism, religious extremism, and related charges on the eve of the Olympic Games.

Executions and mass sentencing rally in Kashgar

Also on July 9, a court in Kashgar, in the southern part of East Turkestan, sentenced five Uyghurs to death out of a group of 15. Two of the five were shot to death immediately after being sentenced, and the other three were sentenced to be executed after a two-year reprieve. The remaining 10 Uyghurs were sentenced to life imprisonment. All 15 were convicted of terrorism charges, and they were also charged with theft, espionage, illegal religious teachings, the transportation of explosives, and the viewing of illegal videos.

UAA has learned that 10,000 Uyghurs in Kashgar were ordered to gather together by police and forced to attend the sentencing rally for these 15 Uyghurs. Video cameras, cell phones and other recording equipment were prohibited. The forced attendance of these sentencing rallies are aimed at intimidating Uyghurs and enforcing strict social control, and often take place after quick, summary trials.

“As the Olympics approach, instead of showing progress in its treatment of Uyghur people and enhancing the transparency of its judicial system, the PRC is clamping down even harder and using executions and imprisonment to choke off peaceful Uyghur dissent,” said Ms. Kadeer. “We strongly protest the sentences issued to these 15 Uyghurs, because they were tried and sentenced in contravention of international legal norms.”

It is not known whether or not these Uyghurs were among 65 Uyghurs convicted on Olympics-related charges who were due to be sentenced in late June [2008]. At least 20 of those Uyghurs reportedly faced the death penalty.

Background of terror allegations

In recent years, and particularly in the past few months, using ‘terrorism’ as a justification, Beijing has undertaken a renewed, systematic, and sustained crackdown on all forms of Uyghur dissent in East Turkestan. Amnesty International has documented that, since 2001, “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 Uighurs are believed to have been sentenced to death and executed for alleged “separatist” or “terrorist” offences.”

Human rights groups have noted that the Beijing regime’s recent amplification of a Uyghur terrorist threat on the eve of the 2008 Olympics has provided it with the opportunity to deflect attention away from its repression in East Turkistan and project an exaggerated image of Uyghur terrorism on the world stage.  Just as it has used the “global war on terror” to justify the intensified persecution of Uyghurs, it has used an emphasis on the Uyghur terrorist threat to justify its human rights abuses against Uyghurs in the lead-up to the Beijing Olympics, leading to a pattern of persecution and unsubstantiated allegations.

In late March [2008] in Hotan, hundreds of Uyghurs, primarily women, demonstrated against religious repression and the death in police custody of a well-known Uyghur philanthropist. Official media reported that the demonstrators were affiliated with extremist religious groups. Police forces promptly moved in and arrested hundreds of demonstrators, and it is not clear whether or not any remain in detention.

Official media reported that in late January, People’s Republic of China (PRC) security forces killed two people and captured 15 others in a “terror" raid in Urumchi, and that those killed were members of an East Turkestan terrorist group planning an incident on February 5 [2008]. However, there have been no independent sources that can verify the official version of events.