UAA Calls for Accountability for the Dead and Missing Five Years after July 5 Urumchi Unrest

International community must seek answers from China about the events of July 5, 2009 and condemn current crackdown.

For immediate Release
July 1, 2014, 2:35 pm EST
Contact: Uyghur American Association +1 (202) 478 1920

The Uyghur American Association (UAA) calls on the international community to join Uyghurs across the world in commemorating the fifth anniversary of the Chinese government’s violent suppression of a peaceful demonstration in Urumchi on July 5, 2009. UAA asks multilateral organizations and concerned governments to publicly express alarm over the lack of transparency surrounding the dispersal of protesters and to ask China to account for the number of dead and disappeared. 

“Uyghur families in East Turkestan are still wondering about the fate of their relatives five years after the state violently put down a peaceful demonstration on July 5, 2009. They do not know if their loved ones are dead or alive. It is a psychological torment that punishes innocent Uyghurs, even though the Chinese government could provide a semblance of closure with an open account of the events on July 5 and the ruthless crackdown that followed,” said UAA president, Alim Seytoff in a statement from Washington, DC.    

“It is important that the international community maintain pressure on China in order for these families to get answers from Chinese officials, who seem to believe that they are above accountability. As history has taught us, conflict resolution is only possible when state responsibility for human rights violations is acknowledged and the perpetrators brought to justice. However, as China embarks on a new wave of intimidation against the Uyghur people, this prospect looks as far away as ever.”

On July 5, 2009, Uyghur men, women and children peacefully assembled in People’s Square, Urumchi to protest government inaction over a deadly attack on Uyghur factory workers in Shaoguan, Guangdong Province. In separate reports published in 2010, the Uyghur Human Rights Project and Amnesty International interviewed eyewitnesses to the demonstration, who described security forces’ use of deadly live fire against Uyghurs. Despite such evidence, Chinese state media called the events of July 5, 2009 a “terrorist” action.

Human Rights Watch documented the disappearance of 43 young Uyghur men and youths after the July 5, 2009 unrest in Urumchi. The report, We Are Afraid to Even Look for Them, describes large-scale sweep operations in the Uyghur neighborhoods of Erdaoqiao and Saimachang in Urumchi and smaller, targeted raids that continued through at least mid-August, 2009. Human Rights Watch highlights the arbitrary nature of the detentions, stating that, in some cases, “the security forces simply went after every young man they could catch and packed them into their trucks by the dozens.”

Further troubling aspects of post-July 5 detentions are reports of minors arbitrarily detained, tortured, sentenced or simply disappeared, which puts the People’s Republic of China in contravention of its obligations under the Convention on the Rights of the Child, particularly Article 37.

Chinese officials have also taken to harassing Uyghurs who have questioned the authorities as to the whereabouts of their loved ones. Radio Free Asia reported on June 23, 2014 how Patigul Ghulam had been detained in May. Ms. Ghulam has been vocal in discovering the fate of her son, Imammemet Eli, who has not been seen since police seized him on July 14, 2009.

Since July 5, 2009, Chinese officials have spared no effort to silence and intimidate Uyghur voices about the unrest, and have actively sought to suppress information that contradicts the official narrative. Besides an unprecedented 10-month communications blackout, harsh punishment for Uyghur webmasters and journalists aided official efforts to manage and control information emerging from the region on the unrest.

Conditions in East Turkestan have markedly deteriorated since July 5, 2009. Incidents of violence have risen significantly and credible reports have emerged of extrajudicial killings of Uyghur protestors in Hanerik (see The New York Times and Radio Free Asia) and Alaqagha.

On May 23, 2014, the Chinese government announced a one-year “anti-terror” campaign. Overseas media reports cited Xinjiang party chief, Zhang Chunxian as stating the crackdown will employ “unconventional measures,” which UAA fears includes extrajudicial methods.

Since May 23, Chinese authorities have followed through on the crackdown and Chinese and overseas media have reported on a series of region wide “Cultural Revolution-style” mass trials, death sentences, and executions:

  • Chinese government announces on May 25 the detention of over 200 suspects and the breaking up of “23 terror and religious extremism groups” during May in Hotan, Kashgar and Aksu prefectures (Xinhua, The Guardian).
  • On May 27, BBC reports the detention of five suspects in Hotan alleged to be members of a “terror group” (Xinhua).
  • Amnesty International calls the public sentencing in Ghulja of 55 people a “[s]hameful stadium ‘show trial’” in a May 29 press release. In front of 7,000 people, of the 55, three people were handed death sentences (BBC).
  • China Central Television broadcasts the sentencing of eighty-one people on June 5. Nine were given death sentences and three others death sentences with two-year reprieves. The trials were held in six cities across the region (The New York Times, BBC).
  • On June 5, Xinjiang Net reports the detention of 29 suspects in Urumchi for “inciting separatism and other crimes” (The New York Times, BBC).
  • The New York Times reports that three Uyghurs are sentenced to death for their role in an alleged “terror” attack on October 28, 2013 in Beijing. Five others were given sentences ranging from five years to life.
  • On June 16, state media outlet, China Daily details how since May 23 Chinese public security forces have detained 60 suspects, who allegedly “belonged to nine terrorist-related gangs plus one religious extremist group.”
  • A June 23 report in The New York Times cites a Legal Daily article describing the breaking up of “32 terrorist groups and the sentencing of 315 people to prison terms, death row or other punishment…The sentences were handed out in 120 separate court cases.” These measures were all taken since the announcement of the one-year crackdown. The New York Times report adds the information “could not be independently confirmed, and official versions of violent events in Xinjiang are often murky.”
  • Reuters details the public sentencing of nine people “for up to 14 years” at a public sentencing in front of 3,000 people. In the same article, Reuters describes how Chinese authorities in Chapchal issued arrest warrants for 25 people and announced the detention of 14 other suspects.
  • Citing Chinese state media, a June 30 report in Al Jazeera details how 113 people were sentenced from between 14 years to life for “inciting ethnic hatred and belonging to a ‘terrorist organization.’” The sentences were handed down in the Kashgar region.
  • Four people are charged with “murder and terrorism” for their alleged roles in a March 1 attack on Kunming train station (BBC).  

All of the above measures were undertaken in less than six weeks and indicate a widespread and possibly arbitrary crackdown is underway in East Turkestan. While UAA is unequivocally opposed to all forms of violence, UAA is concerned that due process of law has not been observed in these cases, given the speed and atmosphere of retribution in the region. Furthermore, China’s lack of transparency in so called terrorism cases and conflation between peaceful dissent and violence is call for concern over the legitimacy of the current crackdown.

UAA believes the ongoing crackdown demonstrates that the Chinese government has not learned from July 5, 2009. Instead of listening to the legitimate grievances of the Uyghur people and resolving inter-ethnic tensions in East Turkestan through dialogue with the Uyghur people, Chinese officials have resorted once more to fear and intimidation.

UAA asks the international community to express concern over the one-year “anti-terror” campaign and seek guarantees that international standards of due process are followed in all criminal and judicial measures.

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