The World Uyghur Congress Commemorates the 6th Anniversary of Urumqi Unrest
On the occasion of the upcoming 6th anniversary of the tragic events taking place in Urumqi in early July, 2009, the World Uyghur Congress (WUC) calls on the international community to take immediate and genuine steps to address consistent and growing repression of the Uyghur people. Six years later, Uyghurs find themselves in much of the same situation in East Turkestan – state violence, harsh repression, religious and cultural intolerance and strict controls on movement remain a ubiquitous part of Uyghur life today.
On July 5th, 2009, what started as a peaceful protest in response to government inaction over the deaths of Uyghur factory workers in Shaoguan days earlier quickly turned violent as state security forces moved in to crush the protesters. By Chinese estimates, 197 people were killed in the violence, but we can conclude that the number is likely much higher considered China’s recurrent misrepresentation of incidents such as these. The number of deaths and injuries has since never been independently verified, but deaths of both Uyghurs and Han Chinese were widespread.
The regional government quickly instituted a communications blackout that lasted for months following the incidents that prevented the flow of information in and out of the area through the complete restriction on internet and mobile phone use. These tactics have since been used frequently in an attempt to tightly control who is able to gain access to information, amid a general lack of access to independent media that persists year round.
Despite reports from Amnesty International and the Uyghur Human Rights Project, who both conducted interviews with eyewitnesses to the events and concluded that the security forces made liberal use of live ammunition, Chinese media was steadfast in blaming Uyghurs and arguing that terrorism was the driving force behind the actions.
Authorities would also subsequently point the finger squarely at the WUC and claimed that our organization was a driving force behind the violence – a patently false claim – but one that is oft-repeated to delegitimize those who work every day for a solution to the underlying conflict.
Along with those that were killed and injured in the incident, a considerable number of arrests were also made shortly afterwards. In a report released by Human Rights Watch, it was estimated that there were 43 verifiable cases of enforced disappearances of Uyghur prisoners arrested in the aftermath – a number that is likely much higher in reality. The report documents police practices that extended into August, 2009, and highlighted the arbitrary nature of many of the detentions, affirming that, “the security forces simply went after every young man they could catch and packed them into their trucks by the dozens”. Even today, the whereabouts of many of those people remains unknown.
Despite the Procuratorate of Urumqi shortly after stating that, “We will follow the constitution, pay compensations to the victims, respect equality before the law [and] severely handle cases according to law”, there has been no indication that Uyghur families of victims have received any kind of compensation from the state. Compensation was quickly made available to the families of victims, but only for those who were deemed to be “innocent” in relation to the incidents, allowing authorities to selectively allocate funds to those believed not to be culpable.
Conditions in East Turkestan have only deteriorated in the years following the July incident in 2009. The presence of security forces has increased markedly and their activities have become more and more invasive into the lives of Uyghurs. House-to-house searches, roadblocks, checkpoints and constant surveillance have been the immediate and enduring products of the authorities increasing mindfulness and overly suspicious attitude towards all Uyghur residents.
The response has been well-documented and results unambiguous. If the Chinese government continues to opt for repression and restrictions on the most basic human rights protections, the outcome will be both inevitable and predictable. If, however, the government is able to recognize the root causes of instability, namely pervasive discrimination and unjust treatment, we may yet have a viable chance to work towards a solution that will benefit both sides.
We therefore call on all members of the international community to recognize the events of July, 2009, as both a manifestation and cause of decades of abuse of the Uyghur people at the hands of the state. Although we unreservedly condemn the use of violence for the purpose of expressing grievances, state violence has been overwhelming in its inhumanity. It is in this context that we call on the Chinese government to immediately discontinue its suppressive policies so that Uyghurs may live peacefully and retain their inherent dignity.