PRC continues to exaggerate “terror” threat

For immediate release
March 11, 2008, 12:00 EST
Contact: Uyghur American Association +1 (202) 349 1496

Wang Lequan and Nur Bekri talk at a meeting at the National People's Congress on SundayThe Uyghur American Association is gravely concerned that People\’s Republic of China (PRC) officials have been exaggerating the threat of domestic terrorist activity as an excuse to intensify their ongoing campaign of repression against the Uyghur people of East Turkestan (designated as the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region or XUAR by PRC authorities).

“We urge the international community to use extreme caution when evaluating any PRC claims of ‘terrorism\’,” said Uyghur American Association President and Uyghur democracy leader Rebiya Kadeer. “In East Turkestan, the threat of ‘terrorism\’ is used as justification for the continued repression and cultural assimilation of the Uyghur people. In addition, as the Beijing Olympics approach, leaders of the PRC are under intense pressure to improve China\’s human rights environment. We are concerned that these kinds of incidents are exaggerated and distorted to divert attention from the fact that human rights conditions in the PRC are, in fact, deteriorating.”

Recently, two specific “terrorism” claims have been put forward by the PRC government without any evidence provided to support the accusations. On Sunday, PRC officials announced that a passenger airplane flying from Urumchi to Beijing was forced to land in Lanzhou on Friday after an alleged plot to hijack or crash the plane was discovered. As reported by the London Telegraph newspaper yesterday, March 10, the official Chinese media appeared to be retreating from the terror claims that had been issued only one day earlier, suggesting that top PRC leaders were divided about publicizing the news. Notably, the plane incident had appeared in the official English-language Xinhua report, but not in the Chinese-language edition, and not in the People\’s Daily, the official mouthpiece of the Communist Party. The original English-language report was later removed from the Xinhua website.

On January 27, state-controlled Chinese media reports indicated that PRC security forces killed two people and captured 15 others in a terror raid in Urumchi, the capital of East Turkestan. The report stated that those killed were members of an East Turkestan terrorist group planning an incident on February 5, the 11th anniversary of the Ghulja Massacre, in which Uyghurs peacefully protesting against increasing government repression were brutally suppressed by PRC authorities. However, on Sunday March 9, Wang Lequan, XUAR Communist Party chief, said of the “terror” raid, “Obviously, the gang had planned a surprise attack targeting the Olympics.” No further evidence was presented to support the new claim.

Wang has made frequent statements linking peaceful Uyghur human rights activities to terrorism, and has accused Ms. Kadeer of collaborating with terrorists, including in a recent televised interview with Hong Kong\’s Phoenix TV. In 2005, Wang accused Ms. Kadeer of engaging in “terrorist” activities following her release from a Chinese prison. However, Wang has never provided any substantiation of these claims, which appear to be designed to discredit Ms. Kadeer and the Uyghur human rights movement as a whole.

Official PRC government documents and statements frequently use vague and generic terms such as “East Turkestan terrorist organization” or “East Turkestan terrorist force,” implying that a unified and strong group of terrorists exists. Hundreds of official speeches, reports, and news articles discussing East Turkestan use the “terrorist” designation. However, almost all independent observers have rejected the legitimacy of these types of government claims. Domestic experts have also expressed doubts. In an interview with the AFP news service over the weekend, Zhang Jiadong, a counter-terrorism expert at Shanghai’s Fudan University stated, “When it comes to Xinjiang, the terrorist threat is not too serious.”

In the absence of evidence to back up its claims of terrorist activities, UAA calls for an independent investigation into the Chinese government\’s recent terror claims. The Beijing government\’s continued repression of peaceful demonstrations in the name of state security warrants scrutiny of its claims. In addition, the linking of alleged terrorist plots with the Olympics may indicate an even harsher clamp-down on peaceful dissent in East Turkestan prior to the upcoming Olympic Games.