Over 150 are dead and some 1,000 injured following what China’s state media call ethnic clashes between Uighurs and Han Chinese in Xinjiang province. The riots began late July 5 in Urumqi, the provincial capital, following a protest march by Uighurs in response the death of two Uighur workers in a mob attack at a toy factory in Guangdong province June 26. After the march was attacked by security forces, protesters torched vehicles and attacked shops. Authorities say Uighur mobs attacked Han residents. Police have conducted raids and arrested several hundred in Urumqi.
Provincial authorities said the unrest was masterminded by the World Uyghur Congress, led by Rebiya Kadeer, an exiled leader who was detained in 1999 on charges of threatening China’s national security. She was released in March 2005 to seek medical treatment in the US, where she received asylum. A government statement called the unrest “pre-empted [sic] organized violent crime. It is instigated and directed from abroad, and carried out by outlaws in the country.”
Xinjiang’s governor, Nur Bekri, said in a televised address: “Rebiya had phone conversations with people in China on 5 July in order to incite, and websites…were used to orchestrate the incitement and spread propaganda.” China Central Television broadcast images of attacks on Han and Hui Chinese by angry Uighurs. State media said the rioters burned 203 shops, 14 homes, 190 buses, two police cars and more than 60 other vehicles.
The US-based World Uyghur Congress quoted witnesses as saying scores of Uighurs were shot or beaten to death by police, or crushed by armed personnel carriers. Kadeer drew parallels between Tibet and East Turkestan, as many Uighurs call their homeland. “It is a common practice of the Chinese government to accuse me for any unrest in East Turkestan and His Holiness the Dalai Lama for any unrest in Tibet,” she said. “The authorities should also acknowledge that their failure to take any meaningful action to punish the Chinese mob for the brutal murder of Uighurs is the real cause of this protest.”
Independent corroboration of the opposing claims is difficult. Many areas of Urumqi were blocked and mobile and Internet communications disrupted. China Mobile’s phone service was suspended in the region “to help keep the peace and prevent the incident from spreading further,” a customer service representative in Urumqi told Associated Press.
Roseann Rife, Amnesty International’s deputy director for Asia and the Pacific, said: “The Chinese authorities must fully account for all those who died and have been detained. There has been a tragic loss of life and it is essential that an urgent independent investigation takes place to bring all those responsible for the deaths to justice.” (Xinhua, July 7; The Guardian, July 6)
Exiles: police fired on peaceful marchers
The Uyghur Human Rights Project (UHRP) reports that the violence began when security forces attacked a march by Uighur students to protest the Chinese authorities’ response to the June 26 mob beating of Uighur workers at the toy factory in Shaoguan, Guangdong. The UHRP says many of the marchers carried flags of the People’s Republic of China. The march was nonetheless attacked by a combined force of city riot police and the paramilitary People’s Armed Police, who opened fire on protesters.
“The East Turkestan issue has reached a critical juncture and the Chinese government must act now to address Uyghur concerns,” said Kadeer in a statement. “This incident could have been avoided if the Chinese authorities had properly investigated the Shaoguan killings. Young Uyghurs exercised their right to peacefully protest the mishandling of the killings and were in turn met with government violence. The Chinese authorities should not only find those responsible for the killing of Uyghurs in Shaoguan and Urumchi, but it should also release all those Uyghurs detained in Urumchi during the protest and compensate those Uyghurs killed and injured.” (UHRP, July 5)
The Uyghur American Association (UAA) says the Shaoguan attack on June 26 left two Uighur workers dead and 118 injured—overwhelmingly women. At least 60 workers were hospitalized. (UHRP, June 29)
The Shaoguan violence is said to have started when Uighur workers were accused of a rape by their Han co-workers. With Urumchi locked down by security forces, it cannot be determined if the dead are mostly Uighur protesters shot by the police (as the exile groups say) or Han civilians beaten by Uighur mobs (as the Chinese authorities say). (PBS News Hour, July 6)
The New York-based anti-Beijing Epoch Times also cited eye-witnesses who reported that police fired on th protesters in Urumchi, and that tanks had surrounded the market area of Erdaoqiao, where the violence was centered. It reports that the city has been placed under a harsh curfew, with all businesses ordered closed, for three days. Pictures on the website show streets flooded with riot police. (Epoch Times, July 6)
Uprising spreads to Kashgar
Protests have spread to Kashgar, Xinjiang’s second city, where some 300 protesters demonstrated outside the Id Kah Mosque on July 6. Witnesses reported angry verbal confrontations between protesters and police, but no violence. (AP, July 6) Kashgar has seen growing tensions in recent months over a government renewal plan which calls for demolition of the Old City and resettlement of its residents. (UHRP, June 26)