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PEOPLE’S REPUBLIC OF CHINA: 5 July 2009 Urumqi protests and crackdown. Two years later: the suppression of fundamental rights continues

4 Jul 2011
Region: PEOPLE’S REPUBLIC OF CHINA
Topic: Indigenous people Minority group
Two years after a harsh crackdown on protests by Uighurs in Urumqi, China, which began peacefully and later turned violent, the Chinese authorities continue to persecute Uighurs for peacefully exercising their right to freedom of expression and for seeking to communicate information to the outside world regarding the treatment of Uighurs in China.
On 5 July 2009 Uighurs in Urumqi, capital of the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, gathered to protest perceived government inaction over killings of migrant Uighur factory workers in Shaoguan, Guangdong Province on 26 June. While the demonstration started peacefully, rioting erupted following police use of violence against protesters. According to official figures, 197 died in the course of the violence, the vast majority of them Han Chinese. The Chinese authorities immediately blamed overseas agitators for planning, directing and instigating the unrest, without presenting evidence.

Eye witness accounts gathered by Amnesty International cast doubt on the official version of events, and point to unnecessary or excessive use of force by police against Uighur protesters including beatings, use of tear gas and shooting directly into crowds. Mass arrests followed the unrest with numerous reports of enforced disappearances, and torture and ill-treatment in detention. To date Chinese authorities have refused to allow any independent investigation into the unrest to be conducted.

Hundreds of individuals were detained and prosecuted in connection with the July 2009 protests. At least nine people were sentenced to death after summary trials. Others were prosecuted and sentenced to long prison terms for nothing more than exercising their freedom of expression ? managing Uighur websites where messages announcing the protests were posted or providing information to foreign sources about the crackdown.

Memetjan Abdulla, a broadcaster and editor for eight years with the Uighur service of China National Radio, is serving a life sentence after a closed trial in April 2010. He was accused of inciting the unrest by translating into Uighur and posting on the Uighur website Salkin a call by an overseas Uighur group to protest the beating to death of migrant Uighur workers in Guangdong province.

Hairat Niyaz, a Uighur journalist and website editor, continues to serve a 15-year sentence on charges of “endangering state security” for essays he had written and interviews he gave to Hong Kong journalists following the July 2009 protests.

Dilshat Paerhat, also a former editor of a popular Uighur-language website, remains in prison on a five-year sentence for “endangering state security”. Messages were reportedly posted on his website referring to protests on 5 July 2009 although, according to informed sources, as the website manager he removed these.

News of the sentencing of yet another editor of a popular Uighur-language website in connection to the 5 July protests only came to international attention in March 2011. Tursanjan Hezim, a former history teacher who ran the popular website Orkhun, was reportedly detained within days of the 5 July protests, although his family was not informed of his whereabouts or the charges against him. The family only learned in July 2010 of his seven year sentence imposed after a secret trial.

The authorities continue to pursue and prosecute individuals who divulge sensitive information about the treatment of Uighurs during the 5 July unrest or the ensuing crackdown.

Ershidin Israil,a Uighur from Gulja [In Chinese Ili] in the XUAR, was recently forcibly returned from Kazakhstan to China, following Chinese government claims he is a “major terror suspect”. This claim appears connected to an interview he gave to Radio Free Asia on 23 September 2009 which detailed allegations of torture leading to the death in custody of Shohret Tursun, a young Uighur man who had been detained in Urumqi on 6 July 2009. On 19 September, 2009, the authorities returned Shohret’s badly bruised body to his family, claiming he had suffered a fatal heart attack while in detention. The authorities insisted that Shohret Tursun should be buried immediately, refusing the family’s request for an autopsy to be performed.

Prior to the interview, Ershidin Israil had been freely living and working in his hometown. Since the incident dozens of people have been reported to have been detained and ill-treated in connection with divulging Shohret Tursun’s case to Radio Free Asia. On 23 September, 2009 Abdusalam Nasir, a friend of Shohret Tursun’s family involved in the incident was detained and remained in detention for 10 months. Ershidin Israil went into hiding as he was pursued by the police. In the ensuing days nearly 20 people were detained in connection to the case, including two of Ershidin Israil’s brothers. One brother, Enver Israil, spent 10 months in prison, while another brother spent 5 months in prison.

Ershidin Israil fled China to Kazakhstan within days of the interview, was granted refugee status by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in March 2010 and was ready for resettlement to Sweden by 1 April, 2010. However, under reported pressure from China, the Kazakh authorities took Ershidin Israil into custody on 3 April, 2010. Between June 23, 2010 and May 18, 2011 courts in Kazakhstan considered and rejected a total of five times his request for asylum from Kazakhstan. The UNHCR revoked his UN refugee status on 3 May, 2011 without providing an explanation for that decision. With all asylum avenues closed off, on 30 May, 2011 the Kazakh government is reported to have handed Ershidin Israil over to the Chinese authorities. On 14 June the Chinese authorities confirmed that Ershidin Israil was in their custody, being dealt with as a “major terror suspect”.

By treating individuals who peacefully express their opinions or divulge information sensitive to the authorities as “terrorists” the Chinese government perpetuates a climate of fear which helps to ensure a near-total black-out of information regarding the human rights violations suffered by Uighurs in China.

Amnesty International calls on the Chinese authorities to immediately release all individuals detained solely for exercising their right to freedom of expression or association, including Memetjan Abdulla, Hairat Niyaz, Dilshat Paerhat and Ershidin Israil and to respect the rights of Uighurs to exercise these freedoms.

1 July 2011
AMNESTY INTERNATIONAL PRESS RELEASE

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