Uyghur Seeks Justice for Discrimination
Radio Free Asia, 1 December 2010
A Uyghur woman plans to sue a Han storeowner for ethnic prejudice according to Chinese law.
A Uyghur factory worker from northwestern China said she was insulted and humiliated by Han Chinese and wants to raise the larger issue of alleged discrimination of her community with the United Nations in what could be the first case of its kind.
Goher Memet, a 35-year-old employee of the Xinjiang Bayi Iron and Steel Co. in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous capital of Urumqi, said she also planned to sue the woman who insulted her and refused her service.
She traveled to Beijing recently for the second time to raise the issue with the authorities since the incident which occurred several months after ethnic riots rocked Urumqi in July last year.
The July 5, 2009 violence left some 200 people dead, according to the Chinese government’s tally.
“I plan to go to the United Nations’ human rights office in Beijing and the U.S. embassy’s human rights office. I want to call on them to pay attention to the ethnic situation in Xinjiang and to help China solve its ethnic problems properly,” Goher said.
Goher said that not long after last year’s riots had subsided, she was in a store in Urumqi asking to have a pair of shoes refitted when the storeowner began to insult her.
The woman barged in, “saying, ‘You beggar Uyghurs killed many of us on July 5. I don’t want to see you. I am the owner of the store and you should leave. All you Uyghurs should leave Xinjiang … otherwise, all of you will die.’”
Just before she went to the shoe store, Goher said she had attended a meeting on “national unity” at her factory, where supervisors warned that workers could be thrown in jail if they spread ethnic hatred.
“[At the store] I was surrounded by more than 30 salesmen, all of them working for [the woman], who began insulting me. My daughter and sister were crying, and there were no Uyghurs at the shopping center,” she said.
Goher said she called the police as the storeowner continued to berate her, belittling the Uyghurs as “stepchildren of our state.”
When police came, the storeowner continued to insult her.
The police told her that the woman was venting her frustration over the riots, she said.
“I asked if it was okay for me to tell [the storeowner] to leave Xinjiang, but [the police officer] said, ‘No, you would be thrown in jail.’”
Goher said she made an official report to the police about the incident and that factory officials advised her not to file any lawsuit.
She said an official of the Communist Party of China who acts as a liaison officer for the factory did not keep his pledge to close down the woman’s store and cancel her license.
The storeowner also refused a proposal by the factory’s security department to apologize for the insults, she said.
When Goher made her first trip to Beijing in July this year to raise the issue with the central authorities, factory officials came to the Chinese capital and assured her again that they would punish the woman. But when they returned to Urumqi, “they broke their promise again.”
According to China’s criminal law, those who promote ethnic hatred or discriminate against other ethnic groups are subject to three to 10 years in prison if convicted.
City- and regional-level ethnic affairs departments and petitioner departments all refused telephone interviews about Goher’s case.
But factory officials acknowledged that she had been subjected to racial discrimination by the shopowner.
“Yes, that is true. The Han Chinese businesswoman attacked Goher Memet,” said Seypulla, a staff member with the factory’s petitioner office, though he refused to comment further.
Hapiz Niyaz, deputy secretary of the factory’s party committee also agreed that the incident constituted racial harassment.
“Yes, the attack Goher Memet encountered is a kind of ethnic discrimination. All the Uyghurs in the factory and neighborhood were deeply harmed by the attack. The businesswoman should be punished by law, but I’m not sure why she still has gone unpunished,” he said.
“I hope that our legal departments handle the case properly and with justice.”
Slighted by attack
A Uyghur worker, who asked to remain anonymous, said many of his co-workers also felt slighted by the attack and want authorities to take Goher’s case against the storeowner.
Ilham Tohti, an outspoken Uyghur professor at Beijing’s Central Nationalities University, said he believes Goher is the first to publicize such a sensitive but common case in China.
“I believe that her voice represents the Uyghur voice for today’s ethnic situation in Xinjiang.”
She faced discrimination “typical of the post-July 5 era of ethnic relations in the region,” he said.
“Theoretically, ethnic discrimination is illegal according to Chinese law, but in practice, ethnic discrimination cases are not accepted by the court in our judicial system.”