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‘Collective punishment’ of Uyghurs continues as Beijing covers up evidence of massacre – exile leader

Turkish Weekly, 12 August 2014

The latest episode in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region of China included a public uprising against strict cultural and religious restrictions imposed by the Chinese authorities on locals following a string of terrorist attacks that culminated in May this year.

According to Radio Free Asia (RFA) and Al Jazeera, the police shot dead a family of five in cold blood in Beshkent village near the Elishku Township in Yarkand Country of southwestern Xinjiang on Monday, July 28, during the Eid al-Fitr Festival. The murder occurred during a routine house search when the officials tried to force women to take off their traditional dressings at their homes, as the headscarf ban in the region has recently been extended to encompass private households.

According to an official statement, masses gathered immediately that day and started attacking cars, government offices, and a police station in an act of revenge. The official Xinhua News Agency said 31 vehicles were vandalized and six of them were set on fire during the unrest.

But local witnesses said that the number of demonstrators multiplied as the police opened fire indiscriminately on a small civilian gathering that was marching towards the square and joined by others who were mourning the loss of their relatives who were also killed by the police in nearby villages in the days preceding the latest event.

Witnesses quoted by international media outlets, some of whom are of Han Chinese origin, suggest that the crowd attacked the police and government offices with sticks and their bare-hands after the police opened fire on them. However, the Chinese media claimed they were wielding axes and knives and started violently attacking everyone in their way before the police eventually tried to stop them.

According to a report by Xinhua, the total death toll was 96, with 35 Han Chinese and 2 Uyghur civilians killed by “terrorists”. 59 assailants were killed by security forces according to the same report published on Friday, August 1.

Uyghur exile groups and their local contacts, however, suggested that ambulance sirens could be heard until August 2, five days after the riots were violently suppressed. They claimed that entire streets were abandoned after days of unrest as their residents were either killed in the hundreds or put under arrest.
Adding to the suspicions concerning official accounts was the fact that authorities waited for five days before disclosing the details of clashes in Hotan and Yarkand, which peaked on July 27-28.
Accounts by exiled Uyghurs

On Wednesday, August 6, Seyit Tümtürk, the Vice President of the World Uyghur Congress (WUC), participated in a meeting as the keynote speaker at a prominent think-tank in Ankara.
In the meeting, Mr. Tümtürk touched upon the recent events in China’s Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, where over 10 million people of ethnic-Turkic descent and Muslim faith have been facing continuous discrimination, assimilation policies, and human rights violations for decades.

Tümtürk suggested that widespread reaction among Uyghurs has climaxed in recent months as a result of routinized house searches for religious materials, harsh traveling restrictions even between neighboring villages, forced abortions, fasting bans during the holy month of Ramadan, discrimination against the wounded by hospital personnel of Han Chinese origin, and the strict imposition of dress codes.

The Vice President of the World Uyghur Congress, which is based in Germany and is a globally acknowledged human rights group, added that the events on July 28 involved thousands of Uyghurs, many of them women, or children below the age of 18, who gathered together to mourn their relatives and protest political oppression.

Accordingly, Rebiya Kadeer, who is the leader of the WUC and has been in exile since 2005 after being released from a Chinese prison where she was incarcerated for criticizing the government, claimed in a recent public statement that although 2,000 Uyghurs were killed on the first day of the latest events, Chinese authorities cleaned up the dead bodies in the days after.

Kadeer said Chinese authorities sealed-off the area, imposed a curfew, carried out an internet and electricity blackout, and kept all observers and journalist out of the “crime scene” in order to suppress any kind of criticism and to tamper with the evidence in the days following the events.

She added that the death toll in Yarkand was the highest since the violence that occurred in Urumqi in 2009, which ended with the death of 200 civilians.

Likewise, Radio Free Asia reported that official numbers on the death toll are well below the real figure, which exceeds 1,000 casualties and many more injured, according to some testimonies by Han Chinese and Uyghur witnesses.

Rebiya Kadeer also pointed out that the incident on July 28 has been overshadowed by the Israeli offensive on Gaza, although both qualify as collective punishment against civilians and crimes against humanity, as the international media largely focused on Gaza and the Chinese authorities were successful in isolating the region and concealing the matter from international scrutiny.

Regrettably, no condemnation has been heard from the outside world, according to Rebiya Kadeer.