WUC to Commemorate Victims on 4th Anniversary of Urumqi Unrest
On 5 July 2009, one of the worst episodes of human rights violations to be felt in East Turkestan in recent history occurred. The World Uyghur Congress (WUC), along with other human rights organisations, national governments, media, the EU and the UN have documented a wealth of human rights violations directly connected to the violent repression of peaceful protests on this day in Urumqi, East Turkestan. To commemorate the 4th anniversary of the atrocities committed then, in the aftermath and those which continue today, the WUC and its affiliate organisations will be organising a series of demonstrations around the world.
As in most years, the 5 July is a doubly-sensitive moment as the Muslim holy month of Ramadan usually falls on or around the same time, which is also severely repressed as reported by the WUC and the Uyghur Human Rights Project, thus making the time an especially dishevelling experience for Uyghurs in East Turkestan
This has been most poignantly reminded in view of the recent crackdowns and incidents witnessed in Maralbeshi, Lukchun, Hotan and Urumchi. These latest developments reveal more than ever that an overhaul of the Chinese authorities’ policies towards Uyghurs and meaningful efforts to redress the longstanding human rights issues in East Turkestan require urgent attention.
The demonstrations will be taking place outside Chinese embassies, consulates and other relevant locations in order to maximise the attention drawn to this important anniversary. In order to view a list of the locations to where they will be taking place, please see our protest calendar here.
On 5 July 2009, Uyghurs gathered in Urumchi to legally protest (notices were posted online several days in advance and not removed, suggesting the Chinese authorities approved) the deaths of 18 migrant Uyghur factory workers at the hands of the Han Chinese colleagues in Shaoguan, in the Chinese Guangdong Province on 26 June 2009. In a demonstration which started peacefully, the Chinese police quickly went on to violently repress it, following which thousands of extra police, soldiers and security forces were drafted in to quell the ensuing unrest.
Two days later, the authorities reported that almost 1500 people had been arrested for taking part in the demonstration, which they described as “a pre-empted, organised violent crime.” By 19 July, Kathrin Hille from the Financial Times reported from a source that another 4000 people had been arrested. During the incident, and in the aftermath, possibly hundreds of people were killed. The Chinese authorities immediately blamed overseas agitators for planning, directing and instigating the unrest, without presenting any evidence for the allegation.
WUC President Ms Rebiya Kadeer said in the run up to the anniversary that, “it is vitally important that we do not forget the widespread human rights violations associated with this day and its aftermath.” The WUC, Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch have all documented the egregious human rights violations from the 5 July Urumchi, which included arbitrary arrests and detentions, enforced disappearances – on which the WUC and Human Rights Watch (HRW) have documented nearly 70 cases, though likely many more exist – extra-judicial killings, the use of the death penalty for political prisoners, a 10 month media blackout, trials without due process nor being open and fair, and repressions of freedom of expression, opinion, assembly and association.
Eyewitness accounts gathered by Amnesty International cast doubt on the official version of the events and pointed to unnecessary and excessive use of force by the Chinese Police against Uyghur protesters, including beatings, use of tear gas and shooting directly into crowds. In spite of the mounting contrary evidence to the official narrative, the Chinese authorities have refused to allow any independent investigation into the unrest.
“The Chinese authorities steadfastly refuse to address the root causes of the peaceful protests, to provide reparation to the victims and to undertake an independent investigation, in spite of mounting evidence contrary to the official narrative. It is therefore as important as ever for the international community to be reminded by such demonstrations that they alone are the only means for the suffering victims to obtain redress,” Ms Kadeer added.
Hundreds of individuals were detained and prosecuted in connection with the July 2009 protests. At least 9 people were sentenced to death after summary trials. Others were prosecuted and sentenced to long prison terms for nothing more than exercising their freedom of expression and for seeking to communicate information to the outside world regarding the treatment of the Uyghur people in the People’s Republic of China (PRC). The Chinese authorities still continue to pursue and prosecute individuals who divulge sensitive information about the treatment of Uyghurs during the 5 July unrest of the ensuing crackdown.
By treating individuals who peacefully express their opinions or divulge information sensitive to the authorities as “terrorists”, the Chinese government perpetuates a climate of fear which helps to ensure a near-total black-out of information regarding the human rights violations suffered by Uyghurs in the PRC. The PRC’s definition of what constitutes terrorism has been heavily criticised by human rights organisations, media and academics.
As recently as March 2013, the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention ruled (case number: A/HRC/WGAD/2012/29) that Ms Gulmira Imin, a journalist and contributor to the now banned Uyghur-language website Salkin, is being detained arbitrarily after having divulged information on the brutal crackdown of the peaceful protest on 5 July 2009. In this regard, the Committee to Protect Journalists reported that minority journalists in the PRC are being disproportionately targeted.
In view of the continuing emergence of further reports of human rights violations associated with the 5 July Urumchi unrest, the WUC calls on the international community, especially on the EU and the UN, to urge the Chinese government to:
A) conduct an meaningful independent investigation into the events of July 2009 to clarify the the real circumstances of these events;
B) cease the increase human rights violations that have been felt since 23 April 2013 as we approach 5 July;
C) Set up an ombudsman with meaningful, comprehensive powers and independence to freely investigate and receive complaints relating to the 5 July unrest, as well as complaints relating to the root causes of the peaceful protests, such as discrimination in the job market and education, lack of religious freedom, degradation of linguistic rights, and others;
D) Immediately and unconditionally release all those who protested peacefully on 5 July or who have been held without evidence and to ensure that those accused of cognisable crimes under international and domestic law are afforded due process, not subjected to torture or other forms of cruel or degrading treatment, tried in an open and fair court, and given access to legal representation of their choice;
E) Prove that trials in East Turkestan were conducted according to international standards, including allowing defendants to hire lawyers of their own choosing, allowing them access to their family and lawyers, and informing family members in a timely fashion of detentions, charges and trials;
F) To address the root causes of the 5 July protest and the ethnic unrest, including the severe political and religious repression and economic discrimination to which Uyghurs are subjected and the dilution of Uyghurs’ language and culture.