East Turkestan: Death Sentences Condemned
Below is an article published by the Uyghur Human Rights Project:
The Uyghur American Association (UAA) condemns in the strongest possible terms the sentencing of Abdurahman Azat and Kurbanjan Hemit to death in Kashgar, East Turkestan (also known as Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region) on terror related charges.
Xinhua News Agency reported on Wednesday, December 17, 2008 that Abdurahman Azat and Kurbanjan Hemit were sentenced by the Intermediate People’s Court of Kashgar to death for “intentional homicide and illegally producing guns, ammunition and explosives”. Abdurahman Azat and Kurbanjan Hemit had been detained for allegedly carrying out an August 4, 2008 attack in Kashgar in which sixteen policemen were killed.
UAA believes that the sentencing was motivated by a desire to silence questions concerning the evidence presented by Chinese authorities in the case, as well as to send a clear message of intimidation to the Uyghur people in an on-going crackdown in East Turkestan.
In August 2008, the Chinese state media reported that two Uyghurs, one taxi driver and one vegetable seller, attacked and killed sixteen policemen using a truck, homemade grenades and machetes in the city of Kashgar.
However, a September 28, 2008 New York Times report on the attack cast doubt on the official Chinese version of events in a number of key areas. The New York Times detailed the eyewitness accounts of three western tourists, one of whom had taken photographs of the attack, who had been staying in a hotel across the street from the events.
The New York Times reported that the three tourists “heard no loud explosions and that the men wielding the machetes appeared to be paramilitary officers who were attacking other uniformed men.” Furthermore, according to the tourists, “[t]he men with the machetes mingled freely with other officers afterward”.
Following the attack, the party secretary of Kashgar, Shi Dagang, said that the two Uyghur men in custody for carrying out the attack were members of the East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM).
The discrepancies raised by the New York Times reports have never been explained by Chinese authorities, and no evidence has been presented on the men’s affiliation with ETIM or of the very existence of ETIM itself since Shi Dagang’s statement.
Uyghur democracy leader Ms. Rebiya Kadeer said “Abdurahman Azat and Kurbanjan Hemit never received a fair hearing. They were condemned before they had even seen a courtroom. This sentencing shows that the rule of law does not exist for Uyghurs in their homeland. We can also see from this case that Chinese government authorities view all Uyghurs as terror suspects, and that the Chinese government is following through on its threat of a ‘life or death struggle’ in East Turkestan.”
The Chinese government has undertaken a fierce campaign of repression in East Turkestan since the 2008 Olympic Games period, when the Kashgar attack happened. Xinjiang Party Secretary Wang Lequan announced a “life or death struggle” in East Turkestan on August 14, as well as a hardening of measures designed to manage Uyghur issues.
One of these measures, according to the Hong Kong-based Information Center for Human Rights and Democracy, was the deployment of around 200,000 public security officers and armed police to East Turkestan to “prevent terrorist attacks” in the post-Olympic period.
While Chinese government authorities claim the security measures are aimed at punishing individuals involved in a series of violent attacks in East Turkestan, the scope of the crackdown represents a broad, far-reaching campaign of intimidation and fear aimed at the Uyghur community.
In its annual country reports on human rights abuses, the U.S. State Department has highlighted human rights abuses by Chinese government authorities in East Turkestan, including the use of the legal system as a tool of repression against Uyghurs.
UAA asks that the international community establish an independent body to investigate the cases of Abdurahman Azat and Kurbanjan Hemit, as well as Chinese government claims of Uyghur links to global terror, and the existence of ETIM.
UAA also asks that the international community seek a halt to the ongoing Chinese government crackdown in East Turkestan. The policy of demonizing Uyghurs as suspects in global terror on unsubstantiated evidence to justify such a systematic and sustained crackdown is not conducive to the creation of long-term peace and stability.