Vanishing Vulnerable Voices: Four Years of Impunity Cases of Enforced Disappearances of Civilians in East Turkestan

WUC, 15 July 2013

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On July 5th, 2009, demonstrations erupted in the streets of Urumqi, Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR) of People’s Republic of China (PRC). These demonstrations stem from anger by Uyghurs who claim they are discriminated against by Chinese authorities. The protests initially began peacefully as demonstrators called for a full investigation into an incident in Shaoguan, Southern China several days earlier in which two Uyghurs had been killed.1 The peaceful protests then escalated into violent attacks between Uyghurs and Han Chinese later that day, in which many Uyghurs and Han Chinese needlessly lost their lives or were left injured as a result of the ensuing violence, notwithstanding the many buildings that were destroyed.

The crisis didn’t end with the violence, continuing for several days after the initial riots whereby many men disappeared as wide-scale police sweeps stepped up. Just a few days after the eruption of violence, some Uyghur women told a Daily Telegraph reporter that police officers entered Uyghur neighborhoods during the night of 6 July in order to pull men and boys out of their beds, subsequently rounding up approximately 100 suspects.2 As of October 21, 2009, Human Rights Watch (HRW) documented 43 cases of Uyghur men who disappeared after being taken away by Chinese security forces in large-scale overnight sweeps of Uyghur neighborhoods on 6–7 July.

As reported by Radio Free Asia – Uyghur service on May 14, 2012, exiled Uyghur leader Rabiya Kadeer announced about 10,000 Uyghurs have been reported missing since the July 5th incident in 20094. Sources suggest that most of the disappeared victims are believed to be taken into custody by Chinese authorities in large-scale sweep operations. These operations were carried out by the People’s Armed Police and various government authorities in different cities and provinces of East Turkestan, but mainly in Urumqi. According to HRW, most of those taken away were young Uyghur men in their 20s, but the youngest were reported to have been 12 and 14.

As of May 14, 2012, more than 30 families have come forward to Radio Free Asia – Uyghur service with their own stories of missing relatives, 19 of whom provided details and photos. The families of disappeared victims believe that their missing relatives are being detained by the Chinese authorities. In many cases, their suspicions were confirmed by fellow prison cellmates and the police. The 19 families who have communicated with Radio Free Asia are from

East Turkestan’s capital Urumqi, Silk Road city Kashgar and Qaraqash County in Hotan prefecture. According to the one of the residents of Hotan’s Qaraqash County, the number of disappeared victims from there alone has exceeded 200. It has also been reported that many families from Hotan and Kashgar have traveled to Urumqi after the July 5th incident in search of their relative.

As one can see after studying the profiles of these victims, there is a distinct pattern of commonalities shared among the cases of theses disappeared individuals; all but two of the victims reported are of Uyghur dissent; all victims are young males; and all but a few of them are believed to be innocent of being involved in the riots or violent attacks during the July 5th incident. Moreover, in a further common attribute, the family of each disappeared person has been tirelessly searching for them since their disappearance. Many of these affected family members have petitioned to all levels of government offices and institutions, to no avail. According to the allegations received, the Urumqi City Police Department had been assigned to investigate all cases of disappeared victims post-July 5th incident. However, the Urumqi City Police Department, along with all other government institutions, have often released false information or refused to release any at all to families with missing relatives.

In addition, government officials and police officers from all echelons have been eagerly demanding an end to any further investigations of the fate of disappeared victims by their family members and friends. In this regards, families and friends with missing loved ones have been harassed, interrogated and arrested for continuing their investigation and/or for communicating with foreign media stations such as Radio Free Asia in defiance of the state authorities.

This report can be downloaded here.