The Uyghur American Association (UAA) is extremely concerned about the reported killings of seven Uyghurs on December 28 in Guma (Chinese: Pishan) County, which took place amid an official “strike hard” campaign in East Turkestan. UAA strongly protests Chinese authorities’ use of terrorist claims to justify the killings of these Uyghurs. UAA urges the international community to call for an independent investigation into the killings, and stresses that international observers should view Chinese accounts of the incident with the utmost skepticism. UAA also urges Chinese authorities to end their iron-handed and violent controls on Uyghurs in East Turkestan, in order to bring about genuine peace and stability in the region.
Chinese state media outlets reported that Chinese security forces killed seven people and injured four others whom they alleged had taken hostages in Guma County, a predominantly Uyghur area of Hotan Prefecture, late Wednesday evening. According to Chinese media reports, one security officer was killed in the incident, while four alleged perpetrators were captured and two “hostages” were rescued. State media reports asserted that a “terrorist gang” was responsible for taking the hostages.
Reports by Radio Free Asia (RFA) and Uyghurs in contact with local residents contrast with official reports of the violence in Guma, and casts doubt on the number of people killed in the incident. RFA cited World Uyghur Congress spokesman Dilshat Raxit as stating that, according to local residents, Chinese authorities had sealed off all major routes into Guma County in the wake of the incident, and had implemented a security cordon around the hospital where the dead and injured were taken. Raxit also stated that security forces had begun detaining Uyghurs throughout the area.
Rights groups have expressed concern over Chinese authorities’ use of extrajudicial killings of peaceful Uyghurs. On the eve of the Beijing Olympics in 2008, five young Uyghurs were shot to death without warning by police in the regional capital of Urumchi, in a raid on an alleged “holy war training group”. On the same day, following a mass sentencing rally in Kashgar, two Uyghurs were executed and 15 others were handed sentences ranging from 10 years in prison to death on terror-related charges. An RFA report indicates that the 17 Uyghurs in Kashgar were accused of having been members of a terrorist camp in the Pamir mountains in January 2007. However, Chinese authorities did not provide any evidence to support their claims of terrorism associated with the Uyghurs at the alleged terror camp.
Chinese officials exploit the “war on terror” and Uyghurs’ Muslim faith to suppress peaceful Uyghur dissent while gaining international sympathy for their cause. UAA is unequivocally opposed to any form of violence and condemns all violent actions. However, government officials in China frequently publicize terror allegations against Uyghurs without producing evidence to back up their claims or allowing investigators to independently verify their version of events. The Chinese government’s documented abuse of terrorism as a pretext to persecute Uyghurs, in addition to a lack of transparency in the wake of incidents of unrest, raise serious questions about Chinese assertions of Uyghurs and terrorism.
Heightened repression and accompanying unrest in East Turkestan reflect the heavy-handed, violent tactics of Xinjiang Party Secretary Zhang Chunxian. Despite his official image as a comparatively liberal leader, Zhang has reverted to the oppressive measures used by his predecessor Wang Lequan, and has failed to design policies examining the root of unrest in East Turkestan.
In recent months, security forces have implemented tight security measures throughout East Turkestan, including house searches carried out in the middle of the night, controls on the holiday of Ramadan, the detention of Uyghurs for the possession of “illegal” religious materials and “unauthorized” DVDs, 24-hour security patrols, and random searches of people and vehicles.
A “strike hard” campaign announced in the fall by regional authorities preceded a brutal campaign of arrests and enforced disappearances in East Turkestan, as officials pledged to accelerate trials, step up criminal investigations, and conduct round-the-clock police patrols and street searches. The campaign followed the deployment of an elite counter-terrorism unit that is charged with carrying out “anti-terrorist missions” in Kashgar and Hotan.
Unrest that took place in July 2011 in Kashgar and Hotan occurred against a backdrop of heavy-handed repression of Uyghurs carried out by the Chinese government. Details of the attacks remain unclear, and no independent sources have been able to verify what occurred. UAA remains concerned about the reported detention of Uyghurs in connection with these events, and urges the international community to demand a full, independent investigation into the unrest and the deaths reported to have occurred in Hotan and Kashgar.