PRC uses unsubstantiated Olympic “terror plot” claims to justify killings

For immediate release
July 11, 2008, 8:00 pm EST
Contact: Uyghur American Association +1 (202) 349 1496

The Uyghur American Association (UAA) strongly protests Chinese authorities’ recent use of terrorist allegations to justify the persecution of Uyghurs, including the execution and killing of Uyghurs, in East Turkistan (also known as Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region). With less than one month before the Olympics, authorities in the People’s Republic of China (PRC) are ratcheting up already intense terror claims to crack down on Uyghurs on an unprecedented scale. PRC officials exploit the “war on terror” and Uyghurs’ Muslim faith to suppress peaceful Uyghur dissent while gaining international sympathy for their cause. While the Beijing regime hopes to present itself as a modern nation when it hosts the Olympic Games, it is committing egregious violations of the rule of law in its treatment of alleged Uyghur terror suspects, inconsistent with the behavior of an emerging global power.

“We urge the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Special Rapporteur on Torture, Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief and Special Rapporteur on Counter-Terrorism to send a delegation to investigate the PRC’s terror allegations and the recent killing of five Uyghurs in Urumchi,” said Uyghur democracy leader and Uyghur American Association president Rebiya Kadeer. “In light of the PRC’s documented pattern of the persecution of the Uyghur people in the name of terrorism, extremism and separatism, its recent terror allegations and alleged terror raids warrant the intense scrutiny of the international community.”

At a conference on Olympic security on July 10, authorities in the PRC reported that in the first half of 2008, they had cracked five alleged terrorist groups and arrested 82 suspected terrorists who were plotting to sabotage the Beijing Olympics. This appears to be a figure for the total number of alleged terror suspects detained in a series of previously reported raids this year. However, the new report does not appear to provide any new evidence, or support Beijing’s claim that a significant terrorist threat exists in East Turkistan.

In the first half of this year, the PRC government issued a series of specific Olympics-related terrorism claims, without providing evidence to support its accusations. These include an alleged plot by a young Uyghur woman to blow up or crash an airplane on its way to Beijing on March 7, and the arrest of some 45 people in April on suspicion of planning to kidnap athletes and carry out suicide bomb attacks to sabotage the Olympics.

Five Uyghurs shot to death in raid in Urumchi; two executed in Kashgar

On July 9, five young Uyghurs were shot to death without warning by police in the regional capital of Urumchi, in a raid on an alleged “holy war training group”. On the same day, following a mass sentencing rally in Kashgar, two Uyghurs were executed and 15 others were handed sentences ranging from 10 years in prison to death on terror-related charges. A Radio Free Asia report indicates that the 17 Uyghurs in Kashgar were accused of having been members of a terrorist camp in the Pamir mountains in January 2007. However, PRC authorities never provided evidence to support their claims of terrorism associated with the Uyghurs at the alleged terror camp.

“The police shootings of the Uyghurs in Urumchi are completely indefensible,” said Ms. Kadeer. “While the PRC government uses terrorism as a pretext to persecute Uyghurs, Uyghur men, women and children in East Turkistan continue to live under an extremely brutal form of repression. They live in a state of constant fear that they will become victims of state violence.”

Officials at the July 10 conference also said that police in Urumchi had detained 66 “gang members” from the “three evil forces” of terrorism, separatism and extremism, and destroyed 41 training bases of “holy war” from January to June.

The “three evil forces” label has frequently been used to label Uyghurs who have expressed criticism, dissent or dissatisfaction regarding government policies. Even prior to the events of 9/11, the PRC led regional tendencies throughout Central Asia to regard political opposition and ‘uncontrolled’ politicized Islam as the “three evil forces” of terrorism, separatism, and religious extremism. Uyghurs in East Turkistan and beyond are regarded as the main focus of these Chinese-led regional strategies to quell and suppress any sign of Uyghur political organization.

Concerns of religious persecution and torture

UAA is concerned about the possibility that legitimate places of worship may have been destroyed in officials’ crackdown on dissent, under the guise of fighting religious extremism. While there is no available evidence that the 41 alleged “holy war” training bases described in the July 10 conference were places of worship, recent unconfirmed reports have stated that at least one mosque in East Turkistan was demolished for political reasons.

In addition, UAA remains extremely concerned about the possibility that alleged terror suspects will be subject to torture, as Uyghurs in government custody frequently suffer from physical abuse and other forms of severe maltreatment. Torture and forced confessions are an extremely prominent feature of most Uyghurs’ experiences at the hands of the police and judiciary in East Turkistan.

This feature of the PRC’s judicial system was criticized by the UN Special Rapporteur on torture, who stated following a mission to the PRC – which included prison visits in East Turkistan – that torture remains “widespread”.

Meanwhile, as the PRC carries out a large-scale pre-Olympics security sweep, a series of security checkpoints are being implemented in Beijing, 100,000 anti-terrorism police are being mobilized and perceived “troublemakers” are being expelled from the Chinese capital.

In recent years, and particularly in the past few months, using ‘terrorism’ as a justification, Beijing has undertaken a renewed, systematic, and sustained crackdown on all forms of Uyghur dissent in East Turkestan. Human rights groups have noted that the Beijing regime’s recent amplification of a Uyghur terrorist threat on the eve of the 2008 Olympics has provided it with the opportunity to deflect attention away from its repression in East Turkistan and project an exaggerated image of Uyghur terrorism on the world stage.

U.S. State Department reports have drawn attention to the PRC government’s continuing and serious human rights abuses against the Uyghur people of East Turkestan, including the use of the legal system as a tool of repression against Uyghurs who voice discontent with the government; the fierce suppression of Uyghur religion, a moderate form of Sunni Islam that is a vital part of their ethnic identity; PRC government support of the influx of huge numbers of Han Chinese economic migrants into East Turkestan; the transfer of young Uyghur women from majority Uyghur areas of East Turkestan to work in factories in urban areas of eastern China; and the elimination of Uyghur language schools under the current “bilingual education” policy.