Unlawful house search and arbitrary use of lethal force results nearly two dozen deaths in Kashgar

For immediate release
April 24, 2013, 8:00 pm EST
Contact: Uyghur American Association +1 (202) 478 1920

Official Chinese media reports of a violent clash on Tuesday between Chinese security forces and Uyghurs suspected of “plotting terrorism” gathered in a house resulting the death of 21 people should be viewed with extreme caution given the lack of available details and independent verification of Chinese sources. As a result, the Uyghur American Association (UAA) urges the international community to dismiss any allegations of an organized Uyghur terror plot stemming from this incident.

This violent incident took place at a time when the U.S. Ambassador Gary Locke was visiting East Turkestan with a trade delegation of energy, rail and transportation companies. UAA urges Ambassador Locke to urgently raise the human rights violations of the Uyghur people and to call upon the Chinese government to find a lasting political solution to the legitimate grievances of the Uyghur people.

“It is vitally important for Ambassador Locke to remind the Chinese authorities that the constant attack on Uyghur identity, language, culture, religion and ethnicity as well as equating Uyghurs’ legitimate grievances with terrorism, separatism and extremism will not bring long-term peace and stability to the region,” said UAA President Alim Seytoff.

According to a press release issued by the Xinjiang government propaganda office, 15 police officers and local government officials as well as six Uyghurs were among the dead in the Tuesday afternoon clash. Xinjiang government spokeswoman Hou Hanmin said three community workers were patrolling in Maralbeshi (Bachu in Chinese) county after a tip-off that there were "suspicious people" in a house. She said they were taken hostage by the “suspicious people”. The suspects then attacked police and officials who rushed to the scene with axes and large knives, killed the hostages and set the house on fire, Hou added.

According to the release, six suspects were shot dead during the clash and eight were captured alive by local police. The release said, “Initial investigations show this was a gang plotting to carry out terrorist acts and the case is now being further cracked open,” alleging these Uyghurs were terrorists.

World Uyghur Congress spokesman Dilshat Raxit, citing a local source, said the violence was sparked by the shooting and killing of a young Uyghur by Chinese security forces during an illegal search of homes. He dismissed the government’s terrorism claims and stated, “They always use such labels as a way of justifying their use of armed force." He added that the authorities had flooded the area with Chinese security forces overnight.

Chinese officials regularly exploit incidents in East Turkestan to evidence an alleged “terror threat” to the Chinese state. Allegations of Uyghur terrorism have received little credibility outside of officially sanctioned Chinese media. UAA is unequivocally opposed to any form of violence and condemns all violent actions; however, the Chinese government regularly makes terror allegations against Uyghurs without producing evidence to back up their claims or allowing international investigators to independently verify their version of events.

In a Guardian article dated April 24, 2013, Human Rights Watch senior Asia researcher Nicholas Bequelin is quoted as saying: “China has made many unproven and questionable statements about terrorism in the region. That does not mean there isn't anti-state violence happening there, but we should take with a lot of caution any claim of terrorism… There are a lot of deaths and a dearth of explanation about them. Every time an incident has been investigated, it brings up elements that challenge profoundly the version put out by authorities.”

He noted in the same article that there were criminal gangs in Xinjiang which could not necessarily be linked to terrorism, and added: “Anything that is outside of state-controlled religion is viewed by the Chinese government as illegal religious activity – and anything viewed as illegal religious activity is in turn associated with terrorism.”

The Chinese government often conflates Islam with terrorism in order to justify repression of the Uyghur people. Citing a survey undertaken by AP, the Uighurbiz website highlighted an increase in terror arrests worldwide in the decade after 9/11. Of the 66 countries surveyed, accounting for 70% of the world’s population, China was one of two countries accounting for half of the 35,117 terror related convictions recorded. The AP article concluded “dozens of countries are using the fight against terrorism to curb political dissent.”

The use of legal means to curb Uyghur dissent was also recorded by human rights NGO, Dui Hua in an analysis of Endangering State Security (ESS) crimes in China, which include “splittism” and “inciting splitism.”  An article dated February 28, 2013 detailed how “between 2008 and 2010, Xinjiang, which accounts for less than 2 percent of China’s population, accounted for 50 percent of the nation’s first-instance ESS trials. Given that splittism is the focus of stability maintenance in the region, the great majority of defendants in these trials is almost certain to be Uyghur.”

Since the turbulent unrest of July 5, 2009, China intensified its repression of the Uyghur people through implementing heavy-handed security measures and allowing arbitrary use of lethal force against Uyghurs not cooperating with the authorities or resisting police demands. In addition to deploying Chinese security and anti-terror forces from other parts of China into East Turkestan soon after the unrest, authorities also created neighborhood watch offices in areas populated by the Uyghurs, especially in Kashgar and Hotan, to specifically spy on Uyghurs. These offices were tasked to report any Uyghur out of town or any kind of Uyghur gathering even in the privacy of their house to police or security personnel patrolling the area. Subsequently, it results an immediate unlawful house search by neighborhood watch officers and sometimes arbitrary use of lethal force by security personnel for any kind of resistance, causing the deaths of many people, with authorities usually labeling the Uyghurs involved as “terrorists”.

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