China: Uighurs warn of “fierce” post-Olympic repression in Xinjiang

From the Uyghur American Association (UAA), Aug. 22:

The Uyghur American Association (UAA) believes that recent comments made by Wang Lequan signal an upcoming period of fierce repression against Uyghurs across the People’s Republic of China (PRC), particularly in East Turkestan, also known as the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR).

In a speech, Mr. Wang, the Communist Party Secretary of the XUAR, stated that Chinese government authorities face a “life or death” struggle to quell Uyghur unrest. This indicates an impending campaign of repression against Uyghurs more severe than traditional “Strike Hard” campaigns, which are used by Chinese officials in East Turkestan to stifle political dissent.

Events in the lead up to and during the Olympics evidence an intensification of repression by Chinese government authorities, which UAA fears will worsen in the post-Olympics period after Mr. Wang’s comments. The Uyghur Human Rights Project (UHRP) has heard reliable reports that all non-resident Uyghurs in the city of Korla have been detained, and have been told that they will be released after the Beijing Olympics are over. The detention of non-resident Uyghurs in Korla began following violent attacks that took place in Kucha on August 10.

This measure is part of an on-going campaign of detentions, which has seen thousands of Uyghurs arrested in Olympics-related security sweeps of Kashgar, Ghulja, Artush and other cities. UHRP has documented reports stating that more than 100 Uyghurs have been arrested in Kashgar following an attack on paramilitary police in the city on August 4. In addition, at least 90 Uyghurs have reportedly been arrested in and near Kucha following the Kucha attacks, including several women. Uyghurs in Kucha were reportedly prevented from leaving their homes, and many arrests of Uyghurs were reported in nearby counties and towns. These reports also describe the presence of armed vehicles and the People’s Armed Police patrolling the streets of Kucha and Kashgar. Associated Press stated that “authorities declared virtual martial law” in Kucha after the attacks.

The crackdown on Uyghurs has spread beyond East Turkestan to areas of the PRC outside the region. The Bloomberg News Service states that Uyghur residents of Beijing are complaining of “being pressured to leave” the city, while UPI reports that Uyghur pilots in China’s aviation fleet were grounded in a security measure aimed at preempting terrorist attacks. At present, Uyghurs do not feel secure anywhere in China, including East Turkestan, as they are seen as political suspects by the PRC authorities.

Willy Lam, Senior Fellow at the Jamestown Foundation, in an article published on August 15, says that diplomatic sources in Beijing are anticipating that “the enhanced military action would begin immediately after the Olympics end on the 24th, when the world’s attention will no longer be focused on China’s human rights record.” Mr. Lam adds that local authorities are being threatened with immediate demotion or firing to “ensure that areas under their jurisdiction be free of underground separatist or extremist bases,” leaving the possibility that officials will conduct repressive campaigns against Uyghurs to save their livelihoods.

In an August 22 article published in the Wall Street Journal Asia, Mr. Lam adds “that Beijing has ruled out any compromise with underground Uighur groups, many of which are merely seeking autonomous rights guaranteed by the Chinese Constitution, not outright independence. Instead, President Hu had in early summer ordered more People’s Liberation Army and People’s Armed Police reinforcements into Xinjiang and Tibet.”

In a statement, Ms. Rebiya Kadeer, leader of the Uyghur freedom movement, said “I am extremely concerned that the Chinese government will launch a ‘life and death struggle’ on the Uyghur people once the international community’s focus has shifted from China. Such a move will further destabilize the region and is not in the best interest of China. I urge restraint on the part of the Chinese government to not use the recent incidents in East Turkestan to persecute Uyghurs. I also urge the international community to speak out on behalf of Uyghurs and to prevent imminent and systematic human rights abuses against a peaceful people.”

Political Consultative Committee head Zhu Hailun stated at a televised news conference Monday that government forces must “Strike Hard” at the three evil forces [terrorism, separatism, and extremism], and mobilize the masses to guard against these forces at all levels of society. Chinese government authorities appear to be reviving old terminology while also introducing even harsher methods than in the past, such as the introduction of unprecedented military reinforcements into East Turkestan and the imposition of virtual martial law. Traditionally, “Strike Hard” campaigns in East Turkestan are known to exacerbate Chinese government authorities’ tendency to over-state the seriousness of a perceived crime. “Strike Hard” campaigns are generally typified by arbitrary punishments, accelerated judicial procedures and an increased use of the death penalty. The Chinese government in East Turkestan is liable to regard any form of opposition as a “splittist” or even a “terrorist” act; this tendency is even more evident during “Strike Hard” campaigns.

See our last post on China and the Uighurs.