International investigation needed into death toll in East Turkestan
by Uyghur American Association
Note: Center for Islamic Pluralism websites will resume reposting statements by the Uyghur American Association and other Uyghur community groups. CIP fully supports the rights of Uyghurs inside Chinese territory.
For immediate release
July 12, 2009
As an illusory peace settles over Urumchi, Kashgar and other cities in East Turkestan, enforced by tens of thousands of troops and police forces, the Uyghur American Association (UAA) is deeply saddened by the rise in the official toll of both the dead and the wounded of all ethnicities that occurred during the unrest of the past week. UAA expresses condolences to all those killed and wounded in East Turkestan. According to official figures, the number of dead has reached 184, and the number of injured has reached 1,680.
The Chinese government has shown no signs that it will allow an independent investigation into the deaths and injuries that occurred during the unrest of the past week. Chinese authorities have actively worked to block communications and the flow of information, both inside the region and from East Turkestan to the outside world, including through the expulsion of international journalists from parts of East Turkestan. Chinese government officials have suspended all wireless and Internet communications in East Turkestan, making it difficult to reach residents of East Turkestan, and particularly those in Urumchi, by phone from overseas. In light of reports that have reached UAA from residents of East Turkestan, however, and in the absence of independent verification of official figures, UAA cannot accept the casualty toll and its ethnic breakdown as presented by the Chinese government.
"We mourn all loss of life among all ethnicities in East Turkestan, but we cannot accept the casualty figures and the breakdown of ethnicity provided by the Chinese authorities," said Uyghur democracy leader Rebiya Kadeer. "The Chinese government should not take advantage of this tragedy to inflame Chinese nationalism, but should commit itself to presenting an accurate picture of the numbers of those killed and wounded."
According to the official Chinese media, of those killed in the demonstrations and violence, 137 were Han Chinese, 46 were Uyghur and one was part of the Hui Muslim minority group. UAA believes this represents an aggressive effort on the part of Chinese authorities to portray a skewed, politicized picture of events and inflame nationalist tensions. Eyewitness reports reaching UAA indicate that the deaths of many Uyghurs killed in the demonstrations and unrest of the past week are not being officially acknowledged. UAA also condemns the absence of state acknowledgement of officially-sanctioned, disproportionate use of violence against Uyghurs by security forces over the past week.
The official Chinese portrayal of the death toll and the unrest over the past week cannot be viewed as credible until they are independently verified by United Nations investigators. UAA calls upon the United Nations to conduct a full investigation into the deaths and injuries that occurred in East Turkestan.
Following the demonstrations and unrest that occurred in Lhasa and throughout Tibet in 2008, Chinese officials said 13 "innocent civilians" had died, but overseas Tibetan groups estimated the death toll to have included as many as 100 Tibetans. UAA believes this pattern of focusing only on Chinese deaths and not reporting incidents of violence against non-Han people in Tibet is being replicated now in East Turkestan. In addition, UAA has received eyewitness accounts that, early in the week, security forces fired into crowds of unarmed Uyghurs, and this has not been acknowledged publicly by Chinese officials.
UAA is also concerned that some Uyghurs injured in the violence may have refrained from going to the hospital to receive medical care, as an overseas rights group reported that a number of Tibetans in 2008 were detained upon admission to hospital instead of receiving medical care.
UAA is extremely concerned that, according to official reports, more than 1,400 people have been arrested in East Turkestan since July 5. Residents within East Turkestan have reported that police have conducted sweeps in Uyghur neighborhoods in Urumchi and have taken men into custody without subsequently informing their family members of their whereabouts. UAA's concern is heightened by the fact that the Communist Party Secretary in Urumchi has warned that "those who have committed crimes with cruel means" will be executed. Without an independent, transparent judicial process in place, there is a high probability that Uyghurs will be subject to secret trials and arbitrary execution, such as occurred after the Ghulja Massacre in 1997.
The repression, deaths and violence on the streets of Urumchi and Kashgar over the past week reveal the fundamentally flawed nature of the Chinese government's policies toward the Uyghur people. And while Beijing professor Xiong Kunxin called upon Chinese society this past week to not "demonize minorities", this is a call that most needs to be directed to the Chinese government. Official repression is responsible for the deepening of tensions in East Turkestan, and has brought about exactly the opposite of the ethnic harmony and stability that China's leaders claim that they aim to achieve.