PEOPLE’S REPUBLIC OF CHINA: China: Authorities must investigate deaths and release all peaceful protestors

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6 Jul 2009
Topic: Indigenous people Minority group
Amnesty International today called on the authorities in Urumqi to immediately release all those detained on Sunday for peacefully expressing their views and exercising their freedom of expression, association and assembly. Several hundred people are believed to have been arrested following protests in the province, in which up to 140 people are reported to have been killed and 816 injured.
‘The Chinese authorities have repeatedly crushed the rights of the Muslim Uighur community and this appears to be another shocking example,’ said Roseann Rife Deputy Director Asia-Pacific at Amnesty International. ‘The authorities must immediately release all peaceful protestors that have been detained.’

The organization called for a transparent investigation and for free and fair trials to hold to account any person responsible for the violence and deaths, whether a member of the security forces or a civilian.

‘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’, said Roseann Rife. “Violence and abuses from either the authorities or protestors is in no way justified.”

Amnesty International urged the authorities to respect their obligations under domestic and international law which protect peaceful freedom of expression and assembly, prohibit arbitrary arrest and torture or ill-treatment in custody. The organization also called on the authorities to allow free access for domestic and foreign journalists and independent observers to report on the incident.

Xinhua, an official state news agency, reported that police in Urumqi, capital of the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region (XUAR) and home to over 8 million Uighurs, have arrested several hundred participants, including more than ten key figures that were accused of instigating the unrest, and are still searching for approximately 90 more.

The protests are reported to have begun with non-violent demonstrations against government inaction after a violent riot at a factory in Shaoguan, Guangdong province, resulted in two deaths. On 26 June, hundreds of Uighur workers clashed with thousands of Han Chinese workers at a factory where Uighurs had been recruited from the XUAR. Police have reportedly detained the man, a laid-off employee from the same factory, who circulated rumours which provoked the deadly clash. The official response to the violence in Guangdong was to impose an information black-out on the incident, with websites and online discussion boards instructed to delete posts related to the clash.

Beyond responding to the immediate outbreak of violence, authorities need to address issues that have given rise to tensions. Since the 1980s, the Uighurs have been the target of systematic and extensive human rights violations. These include arbitrary detention and imprisonment, incommunicado detention, and serious restrictions on religious freedom as well as cultural and social rights.

Chinese government policies, including those that limit use of the Uighur language, severe restrictions on freedom of religion, and a sustained influx of Han Chinese migrants into the region, are destroying customs and, together with employment discrimination, fuelling discontent and ethnic tensions. The Chinese government has mounted an aggressive campaign that has led to the arrest and arbitrary detention of thousands of Uighurs on charges of ‘terrorism, separatism and religious extremism’ for peacefully exercising their human rights.

6 July 2009

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