Call For Transparency Ahead of Urumqi Anniversary

2013-07-04
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Chinese People's Armed Police in Xinjiang's capital Urumqi, June 29, 2013.
Photo courtesy of an RFA listener.

Authorities in the Chinese capital have again placed outspoken ethnic Uyghur scholar Ilham Tohti under house arrest, as he called for official transparency ahead of the anniversary of the July 5, 2009 ethnic violence in the northwestern region of Xinjiang.

Ilham Tohti had posted an open letter on his Uyghur Online website calling on China's parliament, the National People's Congress (NPC), to make public the number of people detained or "disappeared" following the violence in Urumqi, Xinjiang's capital.

He said the government is duty bound to explain to the families of Uyghurs missing since the incident, pointing out that the move could help "heal the wounds" of the bloody ethnic conflict between the minority Muslim Uyghurs and majority Han Chinese in the troubled region.

"Concealing the whereabout of those missing is not the long-term solution," said Ilham Tohti, an economics professor at Beijing's Central Nationalities University.

"Sooner or later, the truth will be out to the world," said the scholar who has been a vocal critic of China's policies in Xinjiang and who has been repeatedly placed under 24-hour surveillance and confined to his home in recent months.

Residents of Urumqi have reported a strong security police on the city's streets ahead of the anniversary of the 2009 violence on Friday following at least three deadly incidents in Xinjiang last week.

The Urumqi violence left left some 200 people dead and 1,700 injured according to state media.

Immediately following the violence, Beijing ramped up what it called an anti-terrorism campaign in the resource-rich Xinjiang region, where Uyghurs say they are subjected to political control and persecution for seeking meaningful autonomy in their homeland.

Exiled Uyghur leader Rebiya Kadeer has said that about 10,000 Uyghurs have been reported missing since the 2009 violence, most of them believed taken into custody by authorities in large-scale sweep operations.

Restrictions

Ilham Tohti said he had been under complete surveillance since Wednesday and his movements were restricted until late Thursday.

"There were police in front of my house entrance keeping watch around the clock," he said after his house arrest ended.

"The state security police were following me wherever I went. We were not allowed to go out freely as a family."

He said police had left after he received a visit from Elliot Sperling, a Tibetologist from Indiana University in Bloomington.

"I think they might have gone because of his visit," he said, but didn't say if he thought they would return after Sperling's departure.

He also said that one of his website's administrators was arrested by the state security police and interrogated about his website’s passwords last week.

Ilham Tohti's friend and fellow Chinese rights activist Hu Jia also reported via Twitter on the the Uyghur scholar's restrictions.

"The state police gave no explanation, other than to say they were following orders," he said.

Hu said Tohti's renewed house arrest was likely linked to Friday's anniversary and to a region-wide security crackdown in recent weeks.

"The situation is so tense in Xinjiang right now, because the July 5 anniversary is so sensitive," Hu said. "I think it's very likely that they are trying to shut him up over the July 5 anniversary."

Outspoken Chinese artist and social critic Ai Weiwei retweeted a message he received from Ilham Tohti, whose Uyghur Online website has come under pressure from the ruling Chinese Communist Party over its outspoken reporting of Uyghur issues.

"Dear Mr. Ai, I am under house arrest beginning today, and am not allowed to go out," the message said.

Fellow Uyghur and Sichuan-based rights activist Pu Fei said the authorities' targeting of Tohti was likely linked to his relentless attempts to elicit information about the 2009 crackdown.

"We have yet to have a clear account [from the authorities] of what happened on July 5 [in Urumqi], especially on some key points," Pu said.

"Ilham Tohti, along with a lot of other people, wants to know the truth."

'No stability, no happiness'

The Communist Party mouthpiece, the People's Daily, warned the people in the Xinjiang region in an editorial on Thursday that "without stability, there can be no happiness."

"A solid social security net has now been extended over Xinjiang to safeguard public safety and private property," the paper said, linking the recent tightened security measures to government safeguards against "terrorism."

Citing rapid regional development and economic growth in Xinjiang in recent years, the paper warned: "Division and turbulence will lead only to chaos."

"Provoking riots and threatening stability in the cause of dividing China runs counter to the will of the people," the article said.

"But ... the struggle against secessionism and terrorism in Xinjiang will be intense, complex, and sometimes even violent," it said.

Recent violence

In the first of last week's violent incidents in Xinjiang, the Xinhua state news agency said "knife-wielding mobs" attacked police stations and other sites in Lukchun township in Turpan prefecture before police opened fire, leaving 35 people dead, including the 10 attackers.

But local officials and residents told RFA the death toll in the Lukchun incident on June 26 was higher, at 46.

Two days later, in Hotan prefecture's Hanerik township, officials confirmed that police fired at hundreds of Uyghurs protesting the arrest of a young religious leader and closure of a mosque, acknowledging that up to 15 people may have been killed and 50 others injured.

On the same day, local officials said that at least three people were killed in separate violence in Tuanjie Square in Hotan city amid conflicting reports on the circumstances that led to the incident.

Chinese authorities blame outbreaks of violence in the region on Uyghur "terrorists," but rights groups and experts say Beijing exaggerates the terrorism threat to take the heat off domestic policies that cause unrest or to justify the authorities' use of force against the Uyghur minority.

Reported by Mihray Abdulim for RFA's Uyghur Service, by Qiao Long for the Mandarin Service, and by Hai Nan for the Cantonese Service. Translated by Luisetta Mudie and Mamatjan Juma. Written in English by Luisetta Mudie.