The World Uyghur Congress urges the international community express concern as China targets Uyghur communities
The World Uyghur Congress is extremely concerned that Uyghurs in East Turkestan and across China are about to enter into a period of unprecedented repression. In the wake of the car crash near Tiananmen Square on October 28, 2013, security in East Turkestan has been stepped up and official media has hinted at repercussions for the Uyghur people. Furthermore, the World Uyghur Congress, in addition to skepticism over the official account of events on Monday, is unconvinced by claims made by Chinese officials that the East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM) was behind the incident. The World Uyghur Congress asks the international community to reject such allegations until verifiable evidence is available.
The World Uyghur Congress asks concerned parties to warn Chinese authorities not to capitalize on the Tiananmen incident to justify unparalleled repressive measures against Uyghurs. The demonization of the Uyghur people by the Chinese state will not only increase tensions between the state and ordinary Uyghurs, but will also precipitate a further deterioration in relations between the Han Chinese and Uyghur communities. As a member of the United Nations, the People’s Republic of China is obliged to observe universal human rights standards.
“Here is another lost opportunity for China to show the world it can act responsibly. Rather than open up the Tiananmen incident to independent investigation, Chinese authorities are issuing sinister threats against the Uyghur people and making damaging accusations no one can check,” said World Uyghur Congress president and Uyghur democracy leader Ms. Rebiya Kadeer. “The situation in East Turkestan for Uyghurs is already unacceptable. Any way you look at the contemporary Uyghur condition, politically, economically or culturally, the Chinese government has imposed policies that are unbearable. Any intensification of repressive measures will hasten the Chinese government’s goal of confining the Uyghur people to the history books.”
Official media outlet, the Global Times issued an editorial on October 31, 2013 stating:
The people in Xinjiang also need to understand the negative effects and overcome them by cooperating with their inland counterparts. Only by this, can we break down the terrorist forces and avoid enhancing estrangement in the society.
Violent terrorists are the common enemies of all China. People from Xinjiang, especially the Uyghurs will be the biggest victims.
Given China’s zero tolerance approach to Uyghur dissent in East Turkestan, which includes the torture and enforced disappearance of peaceful opponents to government repression, the World Uyghur Congress is apprehensive that non-violent noncooperation with authoritarian state policies could result in dire consequences. The World Uyghur Congress is seeking a clarification on the wording “the Uyghurs will be the biggest victims” from the Global Times.
Security in East Turkestan has tightened since Monday. In an article dated October 31, 2013, the BBC cited an interview with a Han Chinese resident of Urumchi who told the BBC: “Cars driving into Urumqi city, especially those from Southern Xinjiang will be inspected very strictly. Ethnic-looking people [WUC italics] have to go through strict inspections too.”
Pichan County in Turpan Prefecture, from where one of five Uyghurs detained after Monday’s incident originates, has been particularly targeted. In the October 31 BBC article cited above, a Han Chinese restaurant worker told reporters she had been issued a whistle by local authorities and added: “If we see anyone suspicious with big beard or burka, we can use the whistle to call for help.”
A reporter from The Asahi Shimbun news agency in Japan was turned away from Lukchun, a predominately Uyghur town in Pichan County that witnessed a violent incident in June 2013. Police also demanded the reporter delete photos taken a checkpoint. Wall Street Journal journalist, Brian Spegele did manage to enter Lukchun and described how the settlement was under armed lockdown. Furthermore, Uyghurs in Beijing expressed their fears over the future to reporters from AFP, BBC Chinese and the LA Times.
Remarks made by Chinese officials claiming a link between the October 28, 2013 car crash and ETIM illustrate the Chinese state’s predilection to make statements about alleged Uyghur terrorism with no verifiable evidence. According to a BBC article dated November 1, 2013, senior security official, Meng Jianzhu told Hong Kong-based Phoenix Television: “This violent terrorist incident that’s happened in Beijing was organised and premeditated…The group that stood behind the scenes inciting it was the East Turkestan Islamic Movement.” Meng offered no evidence to support his claim. Foreign Ministry spokeswoman, Hua Chunying also alluded to the involvement of the ETIM during a press briefing cited in a November 1, 2013 report from Xinhua.
Suspicion regarding government officials’ references to ETIM’s connection to the car crash has been expressed in the overseas media. In the November 1 article mentioned above, the BBC cited senior China correspondent, Damian Grammaticas’ assertion that “few believe that the group has any capacity to carry out any serious acts of terror in China.” In a November 1, 2013 AP article, Human Rights Watch senior researcher, Nicholas Bequelin called the involvement of the ETIM in the Tiananmen incident “doubtful at best.” Bequelin added: “Such violence is not evidence that the ETIM exists or that this was the work of ETIM.” Scholars, including Chinese analysts, have voiced broader skepticism about ETIM, including its very existence.
Besides the lack of credibility surrounding Chinese officials’ allegations of ETIM involvement in Monday’s car crash, a number of questions remain unanswered about the official version of the October 28 incident. Overseas media and Chinese netizens have expressed doubts over the government version of events. Despite the suspicion surrounding the account given by Chinese authorities no further details on the incident have been released since a Xinhua report issued two days after the events. Given its symbolic importance and its choice as a location for numerous protests, Tiananmen Square is one of the most closely watched locations in China. As a result, there are a large number of security cameras in the vicinity. Chinese police should make footage from these cameras available to independent investigators.
The World Uyghur Congress urges the international community to dismiss Chinese government allegations of Uyghur terrorism as a cause of the October 28, 2013 incident until independent verifiable evidence is available. The World Uyghur Congress also urges the international community to express public concern about an intensification of repression against the Uyghur people following Monday’s incident. Unless concern is forthcoming, the Chinese government will view international silence as a green light to strengthen its violations of Uyghur human rights in East Turkestan.