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Massive rise in state security arrests in East Turkestan in 2008
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Massive rise in state security arrests in East Turkestan in 2008
Published  01/6/2009


For immediate release
January 6, 2008, 5:30 EST
Contact: Uyghur American Association +1 (202) 349 1496

The Uyghur Human Rights Project (UHRP) believes that a rise in reported arrests for terrorism, extremism and other state security charges in East Turkestan (also known as Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR) in the People’s Republic of China (PRC)) in 2008 represents a concerted campaign to stamp out all forms of dissent among Uyghurs in the region. UHRP is concerned that behind the officially-reported numbers lies systemic repression that blurs all distinction between peaceful dissent and alleged criminal activity. UHRP calls upon the Chinese government to release Uyghurs who have been detained and imprisoned for engaging in peaceful activities, and to increase the level of transparency in its reporting of arrests and detentions.

According to an official Chinese newspaper report, nearly 1,300 people were arrested in East Turkestan on state security crimes in 2008, marking a steep increase over previous years. The Procuratorial Daily reported on January 4 that the arrests were a result of a drive to maintain social stability in 2008, the year that Beijing hosted the Olympic Games. Of the nearly 1,300 arrests made, 1,154 were formally charged and faced trials or administrative punishment.

According to the PRC’s national statistics bureau, only 742 people were arrested on state security crimes throughout the entire PRC in 2007, and 619 of these were indicted. Based on other government documents, it is likely that about half of these numbers were from East Turkestan. In addition, the 2007 figures themselves were twice as high as those in the two previous years, and were at their highest level in eight years. Under Chinese law, individuals can be prosecuted for “endangering state security” if they are believed to have engaged in subversion, “splittism”, and “illegally providing state secrets to overseas entities,” all charges that are of a highly subjective nature in the PRC.

“The fact that the Chinese government itself is revealing an alarming rise in state security-related arrests in East Turkestan only underlines what we know to have been a massive campaign of repression against Uyghurs in 2008,” said democracy leader Rebiya Kadeer. “In its campaign to intimidate Uyghurs, the Chinese government acted with an indiscriminate hand, stamping out even the most peaceful expressions of dissent. Unfortunately, due to a lack of transparency in the Chinese legal system, we are left to wonder how many arrests have taken place that have never been publicly reported.”

Information obtained by UHRP indicates that security measures carried out in 2008 targeted large numbers of Uyghur civilians, including many not suspected of involvement in any crime, in contravention of Chinese law and international law.  Particularly in the period leading up to and during the Olympics, UHRP noted a widespread clampdown among Uyghurs and a corresponding rise in arrests and detentions. These included the arrests of more than 1,000 individuals in security sweeps in the cities of Kucha and Kashgar, following a series of violent attacks in the area, and the arrest of 160 Uyghur children, aged 8 to 14 years old, for participating in “illegal religious activities”. Authorities also used the tactic of detaining family members and associates of alleged attackers in an attempt to bring in suspects.

As noted in the Procuratorial Daily report, judicial authorities were ordered to “strike hard” on the “three evil forces” of terrorism, separatism and religious extremism in the past year. “Strike Hard” campaigns are used by Chinese government officials in East Turkestan to stifle political dissent, and they were utilized as an effective tool in 2008, including “Strike Hard” campaigns launched in the cities of Ghulja and Artush. Political Consultative Committee head Zhu Hailun stated at a televised news conference in August that government forces must “Strike Hard” at the three evil forces and mobilize the masses to guard against these forces at all levels of society. “Strike Hard” campaigns are generally typified by arbitrary punishments, accelerated judicial procedures and an increased use of the death penalty.

A “life or death struggle” was also announced by Xinjiang Party Secretary Wang Lequan in August. Media reports suggested that large-scale military, public security and armed police personnel were mobilized in East Turkestan in the fall, and news reports have indicated the implementation of intensified ideological campaigns throughout the region in recent months.

Since the terrorist attacks of September 11, the Chinese government has used the “war on terror” to justify harsh repression of the Uyghur people and project an image of Uyghurs as terrorists or radical Islamists on the world stage. Without providing credible evidence of a substantial terrorist threat, PRC officials have carried out widespread arrests and initiated a series of “security” campaigns in East Turkestan under the pretext of anti-terror efforts. In September, Wang announced plans to launch a region-wide anti-separatism education campaign later in the year.