Caution urged over recent Chinese government allegations of Uyghur terrorism

For immediate release
June 3, 2009, 3:00 pm EST
Contact: Uyghur American Association +1 (202) 349 1496 

The Uyghur American Association (UAA) urges extreme caution over allegations of organized Uyghur terror made recently in official Chinese media.

On June 3, 2009, the China Daily, the Chinese government’s English language newspaper published Kashgar party secretary Zhang Jian’s claim that Chinese authorities had “in just four months” uncovered seven terror cells in the East Turkestan city of Kashgar. However, reports issued by Reuters, the Associated Press (AP) and Agence France-Presse (AFP) highlight the lack of details and corroborating evidence regarding the Chinese government official’s claims.

For this reason, UAA asks the international community to approach with extreme caution allegations made by Chinese officials on Uyghur terrorism. UAA also asks the international community to seek independent verification of Chinese government claims regarding Uyghur terror before making their own assessments. UAA itself is unequivocally opposed to any form of violence, condemns any violent actions and asserts that terrorist actions will only serve to increase the suppression of the Uyghur people and exacerbate tensions between Uyghurs and Han Chinese. UAA works peacefully for the realization of democracy, freedom and human rights for Uyghurs.

Ms. Rebiya Kadeer, Uyghur democracy leader, said in a statement that “once again the Chinese government has gone public with terror allegations against Uyghurs without producing the slightest piece of evidence. I stress that the international community should view these claims with the utmost of skepticism and should not believe or act on the word of a local official until Uyghur terror claims have been independently verified. These allegations are being made in such a way so as to associate peaceful Uyghurs with the scourge of terrorism.”

UAA believes that the timing of the allegations is designed to convince the international community, at a very sensitive time, that an organized Uyghur terror threat exists despite uncertainty raised by independent observers. UAA also believes that by labeling Uyghurs as terrorists and exaggerating the terror threat supposedly posed by Uyghurs, the Chinese government hopes to influence key decision makers overseas.

In addition, the Chinese government allegations come during international opposition to the government-led demolition of Kashgar Old City, which is a cradle of Uyghur culture and identity. The China Daily report states that “[t]he border city of Kashi [Kashgar] has long been a launching ground for terrorists” and quotes Zhang Jian as stating that “[w]e know it is going to be a constant battle due to Kashi’s [Kashgar’s] sensitive location and we are always ready for it”. UAA is concerned that the terror allegations are also a justification for the Old City demolition, in which the resettlement of Old City residents into regimented government-organized living arrangements is motivated by an attempt to control and monitor peaceful Uyghur dissent.

Over the past seven years, using “terrorism” as a justification, Beijing has undertaken a renewed, systematic, and sustained crackdown on all forms of Uyghur dissent. As is common in the Chinese justice system, those arrested in these campaigns frequently suffer from physical abuse and other maltreatment while in government custody. In addition, they are often subject to nontransparent trials and denied access to independent counsel. Convictions are regularly obtained on the basis of forced confessions extracted through torture. Security forces target Uyghurs who express any type of dissent as they “strike hard” against the “three evil forces” of “separatism, terrorism, and extremism.”

Since 9/11, Amnesty International has documented that, under these types of campaigns, “tens of thousands of people are reported to have been detained for investigation in the region, and hundreds, possibly thousands, have been charged or sentenced under the Criminal Law; many Uighurs are believed to have been sentenced to death and executed for alleged “separatist” or “terrorist” offences.”

Two days before the Olympic Games in Beijing, Chinese state media reported that two Uyghurs, one taxi driver and one vegetable seller, attacked and killed sixteen policemen using a truck, homemade grenades and machetes in the city of Kashgar. However, a September 28, 2008 New York Times report detailed the eyewitness accounts of three western tourists, one of whom had taken photographs of the attack, who had been staying in a hotel across the street from the events. The New York Times reported that the three tourists “heard no loud explosions and that the men wielding the machetes appeared to be paramilitary officers who were attacking other uniformed men.” Furthermore, according to the tourists, “[t]he men with the machetes mingled freely with other officers afterward”.

The discrepancies raised by the New York Times reports have never been explained by Chinese authorities. Initial Chinese-language reports from the official Chinese media regarding the Kashgar attack described the incident as a criminal attack, and did not make the terror angle a prominent feature, although English-language reports produced by Xinhua reported the incident as a terror attack.

Subsequently, 34-year-old Abdurahman Azat and 29-year-old Kurbanjan Hemit were detained for allegedly carrying out the attack. They were sentenced to death in December 2008 for “intentional homicide and illegally producing guns, ammunition and explosives”.

The two Uyghurs were executed on April 9, 2009 at an unknown location after the announcement of their impending execution was read out in front of 4,000 officials and Kashgar residents in a local stadium. According to local sources, Hemit appeared to have been severely beaten while in custody. The two men were reportedly also denied access to legal counsel and were not allowed to see their families following their initial detention.

See also: