(Photo: Xinjiang Communist Party secretary Wang Lequan)
The protest was prompted by rumors of a spate of stabbings in Urumchi, in which victims have been allegedly injured by syringes. The assembled protestors were upset that Communist officials had done little to protect citizens against such attacks. According to the eyewitness interviewed by Reuters, protestors shouted slogans such as: “Resign Wang Lequan, the government is useless!” and “Wang Lequan apologize to the Xinjiang people”. Mr. Wang was seen to address the protestors and to reassure them that action was being taken. Mr. Wang stated that 30 arrests had occurred in relation to the alleged stabbings, a figure which contradicts numbers[ii] from the official Chinese media. Protestors were also reported to have thrown objects, such as bottles, at Mr. Wang as he spoke.
The Reuters report also related eyewitness accounts which described the beating of Uyghurs, as well as the destruction of Uyghur-owned businesses in Urumchi by Han Chinese during the day of the protest. A Uyghur, who was suspected of carrying out one of the alleged stabbings, was beaten so severely that he was taken to the hospital according to a resident. Officials at the regional health office stated that in the past two weeks 476 people, of which 433 are Han Chinese, have gone to hospitals in Urumchi with complaints stemming from the alleged stabbings. However, a lack of confirmable information surrounds the reports of stabbings and Human Rights Watch expert, Nicholas Becquelin, is quoted in the Reuters report as stating that [t]hese kinds of rumors do happen in China after unrest…[t]here’s always bizarre rumors that spread after violence.”
In a statement, Uyghur democracy leader, Rebiya Kadeer, said: “I call on Chinese officials to guarantee the security of all people living in East Turkestan, including Uyghurs and Han Chinese. I also call on the Chinese Communist Party to act quickly so as to prevent the escalation of Han Chinese attacks against Uyghur civilians.” She added: “It is disappointing that Wang Lequan did not listen to the legitimate grievances of Uyghur protestors when asked to on July 5th. Such a move would have significantly eased tensions in East Turkestan. Wang Lequan's public apology to Han Chinese protestors and the mere fact that Han Chinese protestors were permitted to voice their concerns shows that the Chinese authorities are applying a double standard. A precondition for peaceful coexistence between Uyghurs and Han Chinese is the resignation of Wang Lequan, leading to the appointment of moderate officials, who understand the legitimate grievances of the Uyghur people and the needs of the Han Chinese.”
The unrest in Urumchi comes during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan in which a number of restrictions have been placed on Uyghur worshippers. UAA believes that the restrictions imposed by Chinese authorities have only exacerbated tensions in East Turkestan. The restrictions[iii] include restaurants forced to open during the daylight fasting period, pressure exerted on government workers of Uyghur ethnicity to sign “letters of responsibility” promising to avoid fasting, and a state-led campaign to offer free food to government employees during the hours of the fast.
The imposition of restrictions on religious activity during Ramadan is a recurring source of tension among Uyghurs. The Uyghur Human Rights Project reported[iv] that 2008 saw “an unprecedented tightening of religious control throughout East Turkestan. Students and government employees were not permitted to fast during Ramadan or attend mosques in general. Restaurants were also forced to open during fasting hours.”
UAA urges Chinese authorities to remove the restrictions placed upon Uyghurs during Ramadan as a first step in addressing Chinese government policy failures towards Uyghurs and in improving the political climate in East Turkestan. UAA also urges the Chinese government to talk with Uyghur democracy leader, Rebiya Kadeer, and with the World Uyghur Congress to seek ways to ease current tensions in East Turkestan and to discuss the realization of human rights and democracy in the region.Press Release from the Uyghur American Association
Contact: Uyghur American Association: +1 (202) 349 1496