Uyghurs swept up in mass detentions as Chinese government steps up rhetoric

For immediate release
August 4, 2009,11:45 am EST
Contact: Uyghur American Association +1 (202) 349 1496

The Uyghur American Association (UAA) is concerned over news in the official Chinese media that 319 more individuals have been arrested in Urumchi in relation to unrest that occurred on July 5. The news, following reports of the arrest of another 253 people and the issuance of a “most wanted” list on July 30, indicate that Chinese authorities are moving swiftly to crack down on Uyghurs and carry out highly politicized trials.

Chinese official media announced on July 31 that trials for some of the people arrested since July 5 would be held in the coming weeks. Official reports that 319 people were detained recently in Urumchi, adding to the 253 individuals who were detained on July 30, bring the official toll of those arrested to more than 2,000 people.

Based on independent eyewitness accounts and international media reports, UAA believes that the actual number of people arrested is much higher than the official figures. The Telegraph newspaper reported on July 31 that Uyghur residents of Urumchi have described armed police going from house to house and taking away all males under the age of 50. A July 19 Financial Times report stated that more than 4,000 Uyghurs had been arrested and that Urumchi’s prisons were so full that detainees were being held in People’s Liberation Army warehouses. UAA fears that these detainees face execution in non-transparent judicial procedures.

“Detentions of Uyghurs are clearly being carried out in violation of the law,” said Uyghur democracy leader Rebiya Kadeer. “According to the family members of many of those detained, they are not told where their loved ones are being taken, or on what charges. Urumchi police are simply taking Uyghurs away- particularly young Uyghurs, to the point that there are almost no Uyghur youths left on the streets of the city.”

UAA calls upon the Chinese government to provide information about those detained in relation to the unrest in Urumchi, including where they are being detained and the reason for their detention, as required by Chinese law. Chinese law stipulates that a family member or work unit of a detained individual must be informed of the reason for their detention and the location of their detention.

According to the China Daily, the suspects accused of carrying out violence in Urumchi will be appointed lawyers who have “special training”. However, human rights groups have consistently raised concerns over the lack of an independent judiciary and the prevalence of torture in East Turkestan.

Uyghurs in government custody frequently suffer from physical abuse and other maltreatment. In late 2005, after making his first visit to China, during which he visited prisons in Urumchi, Lhasa, and Beijing, Manfred Nowak, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Torture, confirmed that “torture was widespread” in China, especially in East Turkestan and Tibet. No effective mechanisms have been initiated in China to curb the practice of torture within East Turkestan.

“Most wanted” list

On July 30, police in Urumchi issued a list of 15 fugitives labeled as suspects in the unrest, together with their photos. Fourteen of the suspects appear to be Uyghur, and one appears to be Han Chinese. According to official Chinese media, police said that those who turned themselves in within 10 days would be treated leniently, while those who did not would be “punished severely”.

UAA is extremely concerned about the credibility of the Chinese government’s accusations against 15 people on the “most wanted list”. It is unclear at present what specific criminal charges have been made against the individuals on the list. UAA fears that all 15 individuals will face a lack of due process according to the law, and may be subject to execution.

Urumchi Communist Party Secretary Li Zhi has indicated the planned use of capital punishment against those convicted of the most serious offenses. “To those who have committed crimes with cruel means, we will execute them,” Li told a news conference on July 8.

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