“A city ruled by fear and silence: Urumchi, two years on”

The Uyghur Human Rights Project has released their report on the second anniversary of the July 5th Xinjiang protests. As they say in their introduction:

On the eve of the PRC‟s 60th National Day in October 2009, hundreds of soldiers patrolled the streets of Urumchi and other major cities in East Turkestan, while slogans promoting “ethnic unity” blanketed the streets. Nearly two years later, “ethnic unity” still only exists in official propaganda, and a heavy police presence continues to ensure that Uyghur residents in Urumchi will remain quiet.

Violence that was perpetrated by Uyghurs, Chinese and Chinese security forces in July and September 2009 in Urumchi should be condemned. However, Chinese officials have aggressively portrayed the unrest in Urumchi solely as an episode of “smashing, looting and burning” carried out by Uyghur rioters who attacked Chinese residents of the city. Missing from Chinese official narratives have been accounts of a terrifying police crackdown on peaceful Uyghur demonstrators on July 5, resulting in an untold number of dead; the indiscriminate nature of detentions and forcible disappearances that were carried out beginning that evening; and the attacks that were carried out on members of the Uyghur community by Chinese residents of the city in July and September of 2009.

I’ve seen this propaganda myself, and also seen its effects on the opinions of many Han Chinese: they characterize Xinjiang as a dangerous place, and the Uyghur as a dangerous and violent people. To date I’ve never heard any mention of how the initial protests transformed into a riot, or the reprisal attacks by Han citizens, from a Han Chinese. Obviously, this isn’t good for ethnic relations… which is probably one of the intended effects, a cynical observer might say.

From their conclusion:

A group of Uyghur women gathered on the streets of Urumchi on July 7, 2009 to ask Chinese security forces what had happened to their husbands, fathers and brothers. Without the actions of these women, the international community may not have known about the mass detentions and forcible disappearances that were taking place in the city, since the Chinese government had used intimidation, detention and even beatings in an attempt to manage the actions of foreign reporters who had come to Urumchi.

Video footage and Uyghur accounts that have come to light in the two years since July 5, 2009 have also demonstrated that the Chinese government’s version of events is not credible. And while Chinese officials continue to fend off calls for an open inquiry into what happened in Urumchi, Uyghurs have suffered ever more repressive measures on their language, religion, cultural practices, movement, and economic opportunities. Restrictions on Uyghurs’ freedom of speech, including restrictions on Uyghur bloggers and journalists, have meant that this repression has continued with impunity. Uyghurs who express an opinion that is not in line with government policy face imprisonment. This is not constructive to the resolution of issues in East Turkestan.

UHRP urges Chinese judicial authorities to conduct trials and other criminal procedures in a fair and transparent manner, as stipulated by both Chinese and international law. In particular, UHRP urges Chinese authorities to fully investigate claims of torture and lack of due process such as those outlined in the appeal of Alimjan Musajan. UHRP calls on Chinese authorities to make public the total number of individuals detained and/or formally arrested in the wake of July 5, 2009, and to fully publicize information about all individuals charged with crimes related to July 5.

Chinese officials must also take active steps to acknowledge that there are serious problems in the ethnic relations between Han Chinese and Uyghurs. The state should create a space for inter-ethnic dialogue, and facilitate a process through which both Uyghurs and Han Chinese may express their legitimate grievances.

It is also vital that the international community press for a future for Uyghurs that is free of repression. As news of violations of Uyghur human rights increasingly emerges, international observers have a responsibility to acknowledge the deterioration of conditions in East Turkestan. The future of Uyghurs in East Turkestan depends on a critical review of Chinese responses to developments in the region. If this is not undertaken, it is ever more likely that China will solidify its non-democratic approach to handling Uyghur issues.

This all sounds right to me. And to think that a group calling for fair trials, rule of law, and inter-ethnic dialogue has been branded a terrorist organization by Beijing… evidence of this claim hasn’t been provided, naturally.


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Filed under China, ethnic conflict, propaganda, Xinjiang

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