WUC Commemorates 1st Anniversary of Yarkand Massacre and Urges the International Community to Respond
On this first anniversary of the Yarkand massacre, the World Uyghur Congress remembers all those who were killed on July 28th, 2014 and in the days following. It has been one year since Chinese security forces violently suppressed a mass protest and we have witnessed only an escalation in discriminatory state policies that have led to the deaths of hundreds and the detention of thousands. After one year, many questions still remain unanswered regarding the true number of those arrested, killed and disappeared and we therefore strongly urge the Chinese government to act transparently and disclose the true number of deaths and disappeared and release the thousands of Uyghurs who were detained in aftermath.
Although Uyghurs had been killed consistently in countless incidents throughout 2014, what occurred on July 28, 2014, and in the days following would mark the deadliest episode since the July protests in 2009, many details of which remain murky to this day. As is typically the case, all communication in and out of the region was suspended by Chinese authorities as Internet access and cell communication was shut down for months.
The major precipitant of the initial protests, according to Uyghur sources, was a protest that took place in Bashkent Township that led to the extrajudicial killing of a Uyghur family of five during house to house searches in the area. This resulted in the flight of many Uyghurs to nearby Elishku Township where they would then participate in the demonstrations there.
Uyghur sources from inside the region have stated that upwards of 3000 Uyghurs may have been killed during and in the aftermath of the initial protests, with thousands arrested and an unknown number disappeared. It was alleged that nearly all of those who participated in the protests were gunned down by police and security personnel and many others were then killed during house to house searches that followed.
These reports also suggest that aside from the first day where upwards of 100 Uyghurs were killed, hundreds, and possibly thousands more, were systematically killed by police. Details about these events continue to be shrouded in secrecy, though credible evidence suggests that Chinese police and security forces acted brutally and without restraint, as they had done and continue to do a year later.
According to Chinese media sources, only 96 civilians were killed and hundreds more injured when police and security forces clashed with the protesters, including 59 Uyghurs – who were all labelled terrorists – and another 37 civilians. Initial reporting by state media, however, suggested that just dozens of civilians had been killed in the clash, but later updated its count. Although the attack took place on Monday, July 28, state media took a full day to release any official reports about the incident.
Differing accounts over the incident exist with state reports suggesting that government buildings, a police station and civilians had been attacked by a mob of Uyghur civilians wielding knives and axes. Uyghur groups, however, reported that the incident involved residents protesting against “Chinese security forces’ heavy-handed Ramadan crackdown…and extra-judicial use of lethal force in recent weeks”.
During the month of July, 2014, the state put in place curbs on fasting during Ramadan for students, teachers, public service employees and party members. Those refusing to eat would be given official warnings with risk of punishment thereafter. The bans were ostensibly enacted to “protect students’ well-being and prevent the use of schools and government offices from promoting religion. Tension had risen in the region in part due to these restrictions and may have contributed to the protests.
It is in this context that Uyghurs have continued to live for many years, fearful of the presence of unrestrained forced by the police, backed up by a central government that has little or no tolerance for dissent or the mere practice of quotidian cultural traditions. We therefore implore the community of states, NGOs and international organizations to come together to strongly raise the issue in order to affect change.