PEACEFUL UYGHUR DEMONSTRATION IN BRUSSELS: TIBETANS AND OTHERS SHOW THEIR SOLIDARITY

Dennis Barbion, 6th July 2011

The World Uyghur Congress (WUC) and worldwide Uyghur associations have organized peaceful demonstrations all over the globe on 5th July 2011, to commemorate what happened in Umrumqi, the capital of East Turkistan that is now a part of China, exactly two years ago.

75 people participated in a peaceful demonstration in front of the Chinese embassy in Brussels, Belgium. Most of them were Uyghur, but about 10 Tibetans, some Chinese dissidents and a Mongolian joined the protest to show their solidarity and support for the Uyghur people. Moreover, a few Belgians participated as well, and people from Lebanon, Iran, Albania and Iraq. Of course the situation in East Turkistan is similar to Tibet, as all minorities suffer from the oppression by the Chinese government. It was heartwarming to see more Tibetans showing their solidarity to the Uyghur, and even people from other nationalities. The colorful Tibetan flags (that are forbidden in Tibet) were hanging next to the blue flags of East Turkistan. Two different ethnic groups with other religions together, demonstrating peacefully.

The demonstration that lasted two hours was organised by the Uyghur Association Belgium. Slogans as “Free Uyghur”, “We want freedom”, “China terrorist” and “Shame on China” were shouted, but also “Freedom for Tibet”, “Freedom for Mongolia”, “We want justice” and “Stop genocide”. Some of the messages on the banners and pacards were “Save our nation”, “Save the Uyghur”, “China go out from East Turkistan”, “Uyghur need human rights”. On one banner we read “Chinese hostage the minority in Xin Jiang with guns and tanks… but they can’t change history!”, on others “Les Uighurs ne sont pas des terroristes” (“the Uyghurs are not terrorists”) and “Stop au genocide” (“Stop the genocide”).

Picture by Regis Keuren

There were also protests in France, The Netherlands, Germany, Switzerland, Australia, Canada, Finland, Norway, Sweden, India, Japan, Turkey and Kazakhstan.

On 5th July 2009, Uyghurs gathered in Urumqi, to protest peacefully on the occasion of the killings of migrant Uyghur factory workers in Shaoguan, in the Chinese Guangdong Province on 26th June. The demonstration started peacefully, but after a time riots broke out followed by a very violent reaction of the Chinese Police. According to official figures, almost 200 people died, the vast majority of them were Han Chinese. The Chinese authorities immediately blamed overseas agitators for planning, directing and instigating the unrest, without presenting evidence.

After the protests on 5th July 2009, thousands of extra police and soldiers were brought into the city. Two days later the authorities reported that almost 1500 people had been arrested for taking part in the demonstration, which they described as “a pre-empted, organised violent crime.”

Eyewitness accounts gathered by Amnesty International cast doubt on the official version of the events and pointed to unnecessary and excessive use of force by the Chinese Police against Uyghur prostestors, including beatings, use of tear gas and shooting directly into crowds. Mass arrests followed the unrest with numerous reports of enforced disappearances and torture and ill-treatment in detention. Until now Chinese authorities have refused to allow any independent investigation into the unrest.

Hundreds of individuals were detained and prosecuted in connection with the July 2009 protests. At least 9 people were sentenced to death after summary trials. Others were prosecuted and sentenced to long prison terms for nothing more than exercising their freedom of expression and for seeking to communicate information to the outside world regarding the treatment of the Uyghur people in China. The Chinese authorities still continue to pursue and prosecute individuals who divulge sensitive information about the treatment of Uyghurs during the 5 July unrest of the ensuing crackdown.

By treating individuals who peacefully express their opinions or divulge information sensitive to the authorities as “terrorists”, the Chinese government perpetuates a climate of fear which helps to ensure a near-total black-out of information regarding the human rights violations suffered by Uyghurs in China.

Amnesty International calls on the Chinese authorities to immediately release all individuals detained solely for exercising their right of freedom of speech or assembly, and to respect the rights of Uyghurs to exercise their freedoms.

Very recently, in June, a video appeared on YouTube that shows police and soldiers making arrests in Urumqi. The footage shows a succession of Uyghur men being dragged into the street, handcuffed and made to lie face down. Their shirts are then pulled over their heads. The film also shows bystanders hitting the arrested men with sticks or bats, and the police and soldiers doing little to stop them. The clip appears to have been shot for state TV, since the reporter has permission to film. The video’s appearance just before the second anniversary of the riots, may be a part of an attempt to mobilise dissent, perhaps inspired by protests in other parts of China (not to mention the Middle East).

Videos: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WyopjgzgcNA and http://www.tempi.it/cina-ecco-il-video-inedito-del-regime-che-reprime-i-musulmani-uiguri.

The Chinese government is wary of such anniversaries. In the days preceding the 2nd anniversary of the events of 5th July 2009, the WUC has faced severe cyber attacks, electronic spamming and telephone blockades originating in China.

WUC´s website www.uyghurcongress.org has been inaccessible since 28th June 2011 through massive “Distributed Denial-of-Service” (DDoS) attacks originating in China. This is a type of cyber attack aimed at putting a site out-of-service, by submerging it with unnecessary and extremely increased traffic, leading to the collapse of the site. In order to be able to distribute information on the 5th July protest actions and commemoration events, on 1st July 2011 the WUC created a temporary webpage/blog at WordPress https://uyghurcongress.wordpress.com/. However, only two days later, the WUC received a message from the WordPress team, saying that since its creation the page has been under a constant DDoS and other types of hacker attacks, aiming to making the site unavailable to visitors. In addition, other Uyghur website is currently off-line due to DDoS attacks. Hackers are also spamming WUC´s e-mail account with thousands of e-mails in less than two days.

Based on new important evidences (videos and unpublished pictures leaked to the WUC), the WUC calls on the international community, especially on the EU and the UN, to urge the Chinese government to:

  • Conduct an meaningful independent investigation into the events of July 2009 to clarify the the real circumstances of these events.
  • Immediately and unconditionally release all those who protested peacefully on July 5th or who have been held without evidence and to ensure that those accused of cognizable crimes under international and domestic law are afforded due process, not subjected to torture or other forms of ill treatment, tried in an open and fair court, and given access to legal representation of their choice.
  • Prove that trials in East Turkestan were conducted according to international standards, including allowing defendants to hire lawyers of their own choosing, allowing them access to their family and lawyers, and informing family members in a timely fashion of detentions, charges and trials.
  • To address the root causes of the July 5th protest and the ethnic unrest, including the severe political and religious repression and economic discrimination to which Uyghurs are subjected and the dilution of Uyghurs’ language and culture.

Picture by Regis Keuren