A “Life or Death Struggle” in East Turkestan; Uyghurs face unprecedented persecution in post-Olympic period

September 4, 2008

For immediate release
September 4, 2008 3:15 PM EST
Contact: Uyghur Human Rights Project +1 (202) 349 1496

A new report by the Uyghur Human Rights Project (UHRP) examines sweeping security measures being targeted at Uyghurs in East Turkestan (also known as Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, or XUAR) following a series of violent attacks that took place prior to and during the Beijing Olympics. “While Uyghurs had experienced widespread repressive measures in the months and years leading up to the Olympics, the arrests, detentions and military and security presence being implemented following these attacks, and in the wake of the Olympic Games, indicate an unprecedented level of repression in the region. While Chinese government authorities claim the security measures are aimed at punishing individuals involved in a series of violent attacks in East Turkestan, the scope of the clampdown represents a broad, far-reaching campaign of intimidation and fear aimed at the Uyghur community.

A “life or death struggle” announced by Xinjiang Party Secretary Wang Lequan, together with a “Strike Hard” campaign issued by Political Consultative Committee head Zhu Hailun, indicate the implementation of a brutal campaign of suppression among the Uyghur population in the weeks and months to come. Wang has presided over a period of political repression and extremely rigid social controls for Uyghurs in East Turkestan, and has spearheaded a drive to blur the distinction between peaceful dissent and terrorism in the region.

UHRP’s report, A “Life or Death Struggle” in East Turkestan, documents a number of recent examples of harsh measures being carried out under the justification of anti-terrorism. These include:

  • The arrest of 160 Uyghur children, aged 8 to 14 years old, for participating in “illegal religious activities. The children were brought to Bajiahu Prison in the regional capital of Urumchi, and their parents were asked for 20,000 yuan for the release of each child;
  • The arrests of more than 1,000 individuals in post-attack security sweeps in Kucha and Kashgar;
  • The confiscation of passports of almost every Uyghur living in the People’s Republic of China, in the run-up to the Olympic Games.

“Some of my worst fears about the Chinese government’s intent to use security as an excuse to detain innocent Uyghurs, including children, are now being realized,” said Uyghur democracy leader Rebiya Kadeer. “While I knew the Chinese government was capable of such a massive crackdown, I hoped I would never see repression on such a broad scale.”

The new crackdown takes place against a backdrop of far-reaching, systematic repression carried out by Beijing over the past seven years, using “terrorism” as a justification. 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.”

Uyghur Human Rights Project report by Amy Reger. Download the full report in English here.

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