The Uyghur American Association expresses concern at massive build up of Chinese security forces in East Turkestan

For immediate Release
July 1, 2013, 3:00 pm EST
Contact: Uyghur American Association +1 (202) 478 1920

The Uyghur American Association (UAA) warns the Chinese government to cease its fiery rhetoric regarding incidents in Hotan and Lukchun and to end the excessive build up of security forces in the region. UAA believes the Chinese authorities have a responsibility to defuse tension and not further inflame a volatile situation with an indiscriminate crackdown on Uyghurs.

UAA also urges the international community to closely monitor the situation in East Turkestan as Chinese officials routinely use emergencies in the region to violate the human rights of the Uyghur people. Furthermore, UAA views the accusations of “double standards” on terrorism leveled against the United States and insinuations of alleged Uyghur involvement in the Syria conflict as a contributing factor to recent events as a diversionary measure that aims to shift focus from the Chinese government’s failure to implement policies in East Turkestan that promote stability.

“The seriousness of the situation in East Turkestan cannot be overstated. Armed security forces and military vehicles appear to be on a war footing across the region in a disproportionate show of strength,” said UAA President, Alim Seytoff in a statement from Washington, DC. “Time and again, China has shown it is incapable of maintaining stability in East Turkestan largely as a result of repressive policies targeted solely at Uyghurs. The lack of introspection Chinese officials display by blaming anyone but themselves is breathtaking for its brazenness.”

Mr. Seytoff added: “We are now entering a dangerous period as China begins its crackdown in the region and as we get closer to the anniversary of the July 5, 2009 unrest in Urumchi. After the deadly unrest in Urumchi, China conducted numerous human rights violations including widespread arbitrary arrests, torture of detainees and enforced disappearances. There is nothing to suggest it will be different this time. As an emerging global power, China must demonstrate it is a responsible member of the community of nations and accepts international standards.”

According to a number of overseas media reports citing an English language Xinhua article, 27 people were killed after a series of attacks on police stations, government offices and construction sites in Lukchun, near Turpan, on June 26, 2013. State media later reported that 35 people had been killed; however, a local imam interviewed by Radio Free Asia, who had conducted some of the burial services of those killed, claimed the number was much higher. The Chinese authorities imposed a media blackout over the area and later declared the incident an act of terrorism. This claim has yet to be independently verified. A Global Times article dated July 1, 2013 reported that 11 of the assailants had been killed and five captured.

On June 28, 2013, reports emerged of a fresh incident near the southern city of Hotan. An article published by Radio Free Asia on June 28 citing local residents reported that at least two people were killed. The article quoted eyewitnesses who claimed that a group of young Uyghurs on motorcycles leaving a mosque in the Hanerik township started chanting religious slogans. The eyewitness said: “The police were frightened and started shooting at them … At least two died and one was injured.” Radio Free Asia’s source added local residents were angry because the week before police had “stormed” the mosque because the imam had refused to comply with unreasonable government regulations.

A second article on the incident from Radio Free Asia dated June 30, 2013 detailed how local officials confirmed firing on protestors. The second report described a protest of up to 400 Uyghurs who were upset by the Chinese authorities’ arrest of a local religious leader and the closure of a mosque. A local official speculated that up to 15 people might have been killed and 50 others injured. Regarding the incident, a Global Times article published on June 29 claimed 100 “terrorists” had attacked “a number of people with weapons after gathering at local religious venues.” The article also alleged that “terrorists” riding motorcycles and armed with knives attacked a police station in Qaraqash County.

In the wake of the Lukchun and Hanerik incidents, Chinese authorities began a massive build up of security forces in East Turkestan. AFP reported on a large military exercise that took place in the regional capital of Urumchi. The article published on June 29, 2013 described how: “Tanks, army vehicles, and armed personnel blocked access to streets in Xinjiang’s capital Urumqi, where army units carried out an exercise… Large sections of the city’s centre were shut down for the exercise.”

A number of senior Chinese officials, including member of the Politburo Standing Committee, Yu Zhengsheng and Meng Jianzhu, secretary of the Commission for Political and Legal Affairs of the Chinese Communist Party Central Committee have called for tightened security. Yu vowed to “strike hard on violent terrorist attacks,” while Meng echoed his counterpart with a vow to “strike hard on violent terrorist crimes.” Meng, China’s chief law enforcement official, also initiated 24-hour security patrols across the region.

Furthermore, Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region chairman, Nur Bekri called the fight against terrorism a political struggle in which “You die, I live.” The term was also used by ex-Xinjiang party chief Wang Lequan, who was frequently derided for his harsh policies during a 16-year rule of the region. Nur Bekri’s use of the term indicates the likely implementation of a severe campaign of repression against the Uyghur population in the days and weeks to come.

UAA is extremely concerned that the heightened security measures, coupled with the sensitive anniversary of police suppression of the July 5, 2009 protests, will bring widespread violations of Uyghurs’ human rights. In quelling the peaceful demonstration in July 2009, and the subsequent unrest, Chinese authorities committed a number of well-documented human rights abuses including widespread arbitrary detentions and enforced disappearances.

In a June 28, 2013 article, Chinese state media accused the United States of double standards. In a confrontational and often ambiguous article published on July 1, 2013, the Global Times attacked undefined “Western” aid to so-called “Xinjiang terrorists.” One paragraph in the report states: “It’s useless to argue with the West. They won’t change their attitude toward Xinjiang. But China's ability to dissolve the West’s political offensive is being strengthened. The tools that the West previously used to influence China have been degraded and can no longer disturb China's development. Those hostile forces are not optimistic about their prospects.”

In a second article published the same day, the Global Times claimed with no independent verification that “100 people... had travelled to Syria to join the fighting alongside Syrian rebels since last year.” One of the alleged “terrorists” was purportedly “caught by the police when returning to Xinjiang to complete his mission to ‘carry out violent attack and improve fighting skills.’” Without any independent confirmation of this story, UAA believes the Global Times claim lacks credibility and is an attempt to demonstrate the recent incidents in East Turkestan are in some way linked to global terrorism.