UAA Condemns Shootings by Police During Religious Celebration

For immediate Release
August 14, 2013, 12:22 pm EST
Contact: Uyghur American Association +1 (202) 478 1920

The Eid holiday, called Rozi Heyt in Uyghur, marking the conclusion of Islam’s Holy Month of Ramadan, began last week on August 8. The peaceful celebration was disturbed on the evening of August 7 by a police skirmish in which 3 Uyghurs were killed at the Peyshenbe Bazaar Mosque in No. 16 village of Aykol town, Aksu prefecture, Radio Free Asia reported. A dozen other Uyghur citizens and ten police were injured, and over 90 people were arrested following the incident, triggered over the attempted arrest of four men for “illegal religious activity.”

In a second RFA report, the “illegal religious activity” that caused the incident was identified as cross-village worship – the act of villagers praying at a religious site in another village. Police were trying to prevent residents from hamlet No. 3 of No. 16 village from praying in a mosque in hamlet No. 2 of No. 16 village, according to an interview with the Chinese Communist Party secretary of No. 16 village. After police herded the four worshippers from the mosque into a police car, a large crowd gathered around the car and reached 600 people, mostly returning from prayers at the mosque. Police brought in 500 personnel including a SWAT team. Inflammatory comments from the Han police chief, Wu Guiliang, incensed the crowd, which threw stones, and police then fired guns haphazardly into the crowd. The skirmish erupted after police shot a four-year-old Uyghur girl, Subhinur Memet, who is now recovering from leg injuries.

“China’s unlawful restrictions on peaceful religious practice are at the heart of yet another conflict in East Turkestan, coupled with brutal police tactics. What began as a few young men trying to worship freely in the mosque of their choice has turned into a violent and bloody incident in China’s shameful history of repression in East Turkestan,” said UAA General Secretary Omer Kanat in a statement. “UAA roundly condemns these shootings and the tragic death of three Uyghurs in the incident, as well as those injured including four-year-old Subhinur.”

It is the latest in a series of violent incidents in the region, and in the aftermath Chinese officials have implemented a similar pattern of media blackout. Immediately following the incident, the Central Propaganda Department issued a warning: “The media are absolutely forbidden from reporting on the August 7 rioting and looting in Aksu Prefecture, Xinjiang Province,” according to the China Digital Times.  The Hong Kong-based Mingpao Paper reported that a state media report on the incident was taken down and the Aykol police station declined to comment.  The Guardian similarly reports being told by the Aykol police that “no such thing” happened.

Sacred Right Defiled, a report by the Uyghur Human Rights Project on religious restrictions that China imposes on Uyghurs in East Turkestan, discusses China’s ban on cross-village worship, as well widespread restrictions leading up to and during Ramadan. “China does not want the world to know more about this incident or the unfair ban on cross-village worship that triggered it,” added Mr. Kanat. “In fact, it is part of China’s relentless assault on the Uyghur faith, which intensifies every year during the Holy Month of Ramadan.” This year, the cross-village ban was a major part of government strategy, RFA reported at the start of the Holy Month in July.

The latest incident occurs at a time of high tension in East Turkestan. UHRP condemned China’s massive build up of security forces throughout the region last month following incidents near Kashgar and Turpan. This week, China sentenced two Uyghurs to death for “illegal religious activities” and involvement in an incident near Kashgar in April in which 21 people were killed. At that time, the US State Department called on China to give due process protections, conduct a thorough and transparent investigation, and respect the religious rights of all its citizens. China’s state media reports on the sentencing do not share details of a thorough and transparent investigation nor offer reassurance that due process was protected.

UAA urges the international community not to ease pressure on China to cease religious persecution of Uyghurs and to increase transparency in the sentencing of Uyghurs, including those involved in this most recent incident.