China will begin trials over the next weeks for suspects accused in last month’s deadly riots in Urumqi, capital of the Xinjiang region, state media announced. China Daily said officials are organizing special tribunals for “a small number” of the 1,400 detained, most of them ethnic Uighurs. Earlier this week, the authorities arrested an additional 253 suspects, many through tips provided by Urumqi residents. Those who provide information leading to an arrest can collect up to $7,350 in reward money. Li Zhi, the head of the Communist Party in Urumqi warned: “To those who have committed crimes with cruel means, we will execute them.”
Human rights groups have little confidence the tribunals will be fair. “Without independent legal counsel, you don’t have any clue as to what evidence has been collected and through what means,” said Renee Xia, international director of Chinese Human Rights Defenders, which is based in Hong Kong. “Were they tortured or coerced to confess? Trials can be speedy, but it doesn’t mean they will be fair.”
The authorities say the violence, which lasted three days, claimed 197 lives, most of them Han Chinese beaten to death on the streets. Uighur advocates overseas, however, insist that the official death toll undercounts the number of Uighurs killed by the security forces and in Han revenge attacks.
China accuses Rebiya Kadeer, exiled 62-year-old leader of the World Uighur Congress, of instigating the unrest. During a visit to Japan this week, she told reporters that after the unrest thousands of Uighurs were detained without charge. “Nearly 10,000 people disappeared overnight from Urumqi. Where did they go? Were they all killed or sent somewhere? The Chinese government should disclose what happened to them.” Chinese authorities reject the claim, with one official in Xinjiang calling her accusations “completely fabricated.” Kadeer says she cannot reveal her sources because it would place them in danger.
Kadeer also said the response from the US and other world powers to the Urumqi repression was “disappointing,” telling reporters, “We want the international community, such as the United Nations, to send an independent investigative team.” (NYT, July 31; AP, July 29)
China harshly criticized Japan for allowing Kadeer’s visit. “How would the people of Japan feel if a violent crime occurs in Japan and its mastermind is invited by a third country?” said Cui Tiankai, China’s ambassador to Japan. (NYT, July 27)
Australian police will increase security at the Melbourne International Film Festival for next week’s visit by Kadeer. Festival director Richard Moore has rejected a demand by China for a film about Kadeer’s life to be removed and her visit canceled. China has withdrawn five of its films, and hackers made multiple attempts to disrupt the festival’s web site. (Bloomberg, July 31)