Uyghur American Association condemns the executions of Abdurahman Azat and Kurbanjan Hemit

For immediate release
April 9, 2009, 5:15 pm EST
Contact: Uyghur American Association +1 (202) 349 1496

The Uyghur American Association (UAA) condemns the executions of 34-year-old Abdurahman Azat and 29-year-old Kurbanjan Hemit in Kashgar, East Turkestan (also known as Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region). The two Uyghurs were executed on April 9 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.

The executions were carried out at the same time an intense security clampdown and a campaign to demolish the traditional homes of 220,000 Uyghurs are being enforced in Kashgar, and were clearly aimed at intimidating the local Uyghur population. 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.

“Abdurahman Azat and Kurbanjan Hemit were executed today without ever receiving a fair trial and despite a lack of evidence against them,” said Uyghur democracy leader Rebiya Kadeer. “The Chinese government must stop using the execution of Uyghurs as a tool of intimidation and fear.”

Azat and Hemit were sentenced to death in December 2008 for “intentional homicide and illegally producing guns, ammunition and explosives”. They had been detained for allegedly carrying out an August 4, 2008 attack in Kashgar in which sixteen policemen were killed. However, many questions about the evidence presented by the Chinese government regarding the incident remain unanswered, and the details of the event remain unclear. The only known independent account of the incident casts doubt on the official Chinese version of events in a number of key areas.

In August 2008, 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”.

Following the attack, the party secretary of Kashgar, Shi Dagang, said that the two Uyghur men in custody for carrying out the attack were members of the East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM).

The discrepancies raised by the New York Times reports have never been explained by Chinese authorities, and no evidence has been presented on the men’s affiliation with ETIM or of the very existence of ETIM itself since Shi Dagang’s statement. Prominent scholars on Uyghurs and terrorism have cast doubt on the existence of ETIM as an organized terror group, and have asserted that the group, if it did indeed exist, likely disappeared years ago.
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.

In the current crackdown in Kashgar, at least 90 Uyghurs have been arrested, as the Chinese government mobilizes armed security forces throughout the area and authorities conduct house-to-house searches. Uyghur residents in the city of Hotan are being forced to undergo security checks, and Uyghurs in both Kashgar and Hotan are being punished for engaging in “illegal religious activities”.

UAA is concerned about reports of arbitrary detention, abuse of power on the part of police and security forces, beatings and other forms of repression carried out during the clampdown in Kashgar and Hotan.
Starting in late February, the Chinese government began the demolition of traditional Uyghur buildings in Kashgar’s Old City and the resettlement of the Old City’s 220,000 residents to a location far outside of Kashgar. As Kashgar Old City is one of the few remaining centers of traditional Uyghur culture and religion, many Uyghurs consider protection of Kashgar Old City as vital to maintaining a separate Uyghur identity.

The Chinese government has undertaken a fierce campaign of repression in East Turkestan since the 2008 Olympic Games period, when the Kashgar attack took place.Xinjiang Party Secretary Wang Lequan announced a “life or death struggle” in East Turkestan in August 2008, as well as a hardening of measures designed to manage Uyghur issues.
UAA asks that the international community establish an independent body to investigate the cases of Abdurahman Azat and Kurbanjan Hemit, as well as the current security crackdown in Kashgar and Hotan.

UAA also asks that the international community seek a halt to the ongoing Chinese government crackdown in East Turkestan. The policy of demonizing Uyghurs as suspects in global terror on unsubstantiated evidence to justify such a systematic and sustained crackdown is not conducive to the creation of long-term peace and stability.

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