Chinese Crackdown in East Turkestan

Over the last few days there have been major protests – largely peaceful – in Urumqi, Xinjiang, China. Urumqi is in East Turkestan (Xinjiang), a country that was invaded by the PLA in 1949 and has been militarily occupied by China since then. At some point, the protesters were fired upon by Chinese security and since then things have devolved dramatically. Chinese state media is reporting 150-200 people dead and about 1,000 injured, though no distinctions are yet being made about the ethnic disparity of the dead. It sounds like over 2,000 Uighur men have been arrested. Reports include that in addition to continued peaceful protests (many by the wives and children of the arrested men), there are bands of Han Chinese vigilantes and some Uighurs who are committing violence. Additionally, Urumqi has been put under martial law and the Chinese army is being used to crack down on Uighur protests. A number of foreign journalists have been detained or arrested. Finally, the Chinese government has shut down access to the internet and cell service. What’s happening in Urumqi is so bad that Hu Jintao has left the G8 and returned to China to oversee the situation. Obviously that is a great loss of face for Hu in the front of world leaders.

The BBC has had a lot of good reports, here’s their latest.

Al-Jazeera journalist Melissa Chan is in Urumqi and providing insight through twitter: http://twitter.com/melissakchan.

There are a few things to note. The Chinese government is deploying a very similar set of tactics that they used to crack down on the national uprising in Tibet in the spring of 2008. Foreign press is either blacked out or greatly restricted from covering events. Channels for communication with the outside world have largely been blocked. Chinese state media is reporting deaths at the hands of “violent rioters,” but has not acknowledged the likely hundreds of dead Uighurs who were shot demonstrating peacefully. Lastly, and in many ways this is the most disturbing, the Chinese government is already claiming that the protests in Urumqi were orchestrated by “separatists” outside of China — in this case, specifically Rebiya Kadeer. Kadeer is a Nobel Peace Prize nominee and the head of the World Uighur Congress, an organization that promotes non-violent efforts for East Turkestan independence. Here’s a clip from today’s Chinese foreign ministry press briefing, which was dominated by discussion of Urumqi:

Q: Chairperson Rebiya Kadeer of the World Uygur Congress said during her interview with British TV 4 that she has nothing to do with the violence. Do you have any specific evidence to prove that she is behind the whole thing?

A: This is a violent crime remotely directed and incited from abroad, and executed inside the country. The evidence is well established and beyond doubt. In the past couple of days, competent authorities have released facts that foreign separatist forces led by the “World Uygur Congress” and represented by Rebiya Kadeer plotted and instigated the violence. As the investigation goes on, I believe the truth will come out eventually. Rebiya can make lies all she likes, but the international community will not be fooled. Even if she could make a fool of people for now, people will not be fooled forever. More and more people in the international community will recognize the terrorist and violent nature and the attempt of the Eastern Turkish separatist forces to undermine national unity and separate China.

During the spring 2008 uprising in Tibet, the Chinese government repeatedly cast blame on the Dalai Lama for inciting  the protests from abroad, calling him a “wolf in sheep’s clothing”, despite never producing an ounce of evidence to support their charges. They’re doing the same thing to Rebiya Kadeer. This uprising will likely be used as further justifications for crackdowns on Uighurs, the increased militarization of East Turkestan, and stricter rules for journalists and tourists to visit East Turkestan (all consequences of the Tibet uprising of 2008).Rebiya Kadeer also has a must-read op-ed in the Wall Street Journal in which she talks about the protests and the Chinese government’s violent crackdown.

Q: Chairperson Rebiya Kadeer of the World Uygur Congress said during her interview with British TV 4 that she has nothing to do with the violence. Do you have any specific evidence to prove that she is behind the whole thing?

A: This is a violent crime remotely directed and incited from abroad, and executed inside the country. The evidence is well established and beyond doubt. In the past couple of days, competent authorities have released facts that foreign separatist forces led by the “World Uygur
Congress” and represented by Rebiya Kadeer plotted and instigated the violence. As the investigation goes on, I believe the truth will come out eventually. Rebiya can make lies all she likes, but the international community will not be fooled. Even if she could make a fool of people for now, people will not be fooled forever. More and more people in the international community will recognize the terrorist and violent nature and the attempt of the Eastern Turkish separatist forces to undermine national unity and separate China.

During the spring 2008 uprising in Tibet, the Chinese government repeatedly cast blame on the Dalai Lama for inciting  the protests from abroad, calling him a “wolf in sheep’s clothing”, despite never producing an ounce of evidence to support their charges. They’re doing the same thing to Rebiya Kadeer. This uprising will likely be used as further justifications for crackdowns on Uighurs, the increased militarization of East Turkestan, and stricter rules for journalists and tourists to visit East Turkestan (all consequences of the Tibet uprising of 2008).

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