Uighurs in Japan call for freedom in China

Originally published by AFP, 04 July 2010

TOKYO (AFP) – – Members of China’s Uighur ethnic minority and their Japanese supporters Sunday held a rally commemorating the first anniversary of deadly ethnic unrest in China’s far-western Xinjiang region.

“Free Uighurs! We want real freedom!” around 60-70 demonstrators shouted, as they marched from a Tokyo park to mark riots that the Chinese government says killed nearly 200 people after unrest broke out in Xinjiang on July 5.

The marchers carried the large sky-blue flags of East Turkestan, home to Uighurs but crushed by China in 1949. Signs read “We don’t forgive China’s massacre of Uighurs!” and “Stop ethnic assimilation!”

Ilham Mahmut, who heads an association of Uighurs and their supporters in Japan, said many Uighurs were still missing one year after the unrest.

However, despite China’s attempts to censor information from Xinjiang, he said news from the remote region was still reaching the outside world thanks to the Internet.

“They are fretting. Justice is on our side and we will win for sure,” he told demonstrators at the start of the rally.

Xinjiang’s capital city Urumqi was torn in two on July 5, 2009 as the mainly Muslim Uighur minority vented decades of resentment of Chinese rule with attacks on members of China’s dominant Han ethnic group.

Nearly 200 people were killed and 1,700 injured in all, the government says, in the worst ethnic violence in China in decades.