A Uyghur separatist group has acknowledged that six men cited in a new “terrorist” list by Beijing are its members, defending its “holy war” to gain independence for China’s northwestern Xinjiang region where minority Uyghurs complain of discrimination and harassment.
Identifying itself as the Turkistan Islamic Party (TIP), which experts say is another name for the East Turkistan Islamic Movement (ETIM), the group posted a video statement in Uyghur on YouTube last week, saying that Beijing for the third time had placed its members on the terror list.
In the April 19 statement, the group called on Uyghurs abroad and in “East Turkistan,” another term for Xinjiang, to “join ... in the fight against the atheist, communist government of China.”
The statement came two weeks after China’s Ministry of Public Security published a list of six Uyghur men wanted for “terrorism,” accusing them of being core members of ETIM.
It said they were involved in recruiting, training, and publicizing attacks in the Xinjiang region, including some in the Silk Road city of Kashgar in July 2011.
“Who are those that China named as terrorists? They are the martyrs who do not surrender to China’s brutal rule, to protect the human dignity, religion, and rights of the people of East Turkistan,” it said.
The ETIM video, attributed to “Voice of Islam,” did not comment on responsibility for any specific attacks or activities, including those mentioned on China’s terror list.
But it said it was waging a “holy war” against Chinese rule in East Turkistan.
Some Uyghur groups use the term “East Turkistan” to refer to an eventual separate state they are eyeing in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region or to assert their cultural distinctiveness from China proper.
Uyghurs in Xinjiang say they have long suffered ethnic discrimination, oppressive religious controls, and continued poverty and joblessness despite China's ambitious plans to develop its vast northwestern frontier.
The ETIM group said China branded their members as terrorists in order to “spread false rumors about the mujahideen.”
The group called on the international community not to side with China’s “brutal regime” and against those who suffer under it.
"China wants to show its power to our people by getting international support and wants to firmly assert its dominance in the region," it said in the video.
Following the publication of the terror list, Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman Hong Lei charged that ETIM was a global threat and sought international cooperation in China's anti-terrorism efforts.
The ministry wants foreign governments and their law-enforcing departments to help arrest the six and hand them over to Chinese authorities, Beijing’s official Xinhua news agency said.
But experts familiar with the region have questioned the legitimacy of the claims, saying China has exaggerated the threat from Uyghur “separatists” and used its “war on terror” to take the heat off of domestic policies that cause unrest.
“The entire premise of China’s ‘war on terror’ is problematic because it remains unclear whether a militant Uyghur organization even exists that is capable of carrying out substantial and organized acts of terrorism,” Sean Roberts, a Xinjiang scholar at George Washington University, said in a March report titled, “Imaginary Terrorism? The Global War on Terror and the Narrative of the Uyghur Terrorist Threat.”
“While there have been numerous incidents of inter-ethnic violence and civil unrest in the [Xinjiang region] over the last two decades, few if any of these incidents resemble the premeditated, targeted, and substantial acts of violence usually associated with international terrorist groups,” the report said.
The World Uyghur Congress, a Germany-based exile group representing Uyghurs worldwide, accused Beijing of exaggerating the terrorist threat in order to justify crackdowns on minority Uyghurs.
The first terror list China published, in 2003, included World Uyghur Congress Executive Committee Chairman Dolkun Isa.
Xinjiang has seen a series of violent attacks since July 2009, when ethnic tensions between Uyghurs and Han Chinese erupted in riots that left 200 people dead, according to the Chinese government’s tally.
China ramped up its anti-terrorism campaign in the resource-rich region after the Urumqi violence, which it blamed on “outside forces.”
Reported by Shohret Hoshur for RFA’s Uyghur service. Translations by Shohret Hoshur. Written in English by Rachel Vandenbrink.