World Uyghur Congress Continues to Call for Accountability Over Disappearances 8 Years On
On the 8th anniversary of the unrest in Urumqi on July 5th, 2009, the World Uyghur Congress calls on the Chinese government to fulfill its international human rights commitments and open an independent investigation into countless disappearances. Legitimate questions continue to go unanswered, exacerbating tension and resentment among the Uyghur population in East Turkestan.
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.
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.
Reports from Amnesty International and the Uyghur Human Rights Project, who both conducted interviews with eyewitnesses to the events, concluded that the security forces made liberal use of live ammunition during the unrest.
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.” Eight Uyghurs and one Han would also be executed in November 2009 with four Uyghurs receiving death sentences in January 2010 for their alleged role in the violence.
Following the events in July, 20 Uyghur refugees were also returned to China from Cambodia in December 2009—a move that resulted in China and Cambodia signing 14 trade deals worth around 1 billion USD within a week following the return. In addition to numerous other cases of Uyghur forced returns, 109 Uyghurs were returned to China from Thailand on July 8th, 2015.
Since 2009, the Chinese government has continued to implement policies intended to further assimilate the Uyghur population in East Turkestan without recognizing the root causes of instability and resentment between ethnic groups in the region. Restrictions on freedom of expression, assembly, religious practice and movement make up to the most egregious violations that the population continues to deal with on a daily basis.
Enforced Disappearances are an intolerable and cruel method used to silence and eliminate even peaceful dissent and has lasting effects on the loved ones. Given this, the WUC calls on the government of China to take immediate steps to ensure that concrete and documented human rights violations that took place on, and in the days and weeks following, July 5th, 2009, are accounted for.
To coincide with the 8th anniversary, the World Uyghur Congress and its affiliates will be holding demonstrations around the world as a means to remember those who were killed and disappeared. Some of these events, including large demonstrations, meetings and cultural events, are to be held in cities across Germany, France, Belgium, Austria, Turkey, Finland, the Netherlands, Norway, Sweden, Switzerland, the United Kingdom, Australia, Canada, Japan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and the United States.