More than two years after ethnic riots rocked China’s northwestern Xinjiang region, hundreds of minority Uyghurs remain missing, casting a shadow over developments in the volatile area, a human rights group says in a report.
“The government has not accounted for hundreds of persons detained after the riots, nor investigated the serious allegations of torture and ill-treatment of detainees that have surfaced in testimonies of refugees and relatives living outside China,” the New York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) said in its annual world report.
“The few publicized trials of suspected rioters were marred by restrictions on legal representation, overt politicization of the judiciary, and failure to publish notification of the trials and to hold genuinely open trials as mandated by law.”
On July 5, 2009, deadly riots between mostly Muslim Uyghurs and Han Chinese in Xinjiang's capital Urumqi left 200 dead and 1,700 injured, according to state media. Two years later, ethnic relations remain uneasy in the capital.
More than 1,000 Uyghurs have been jailed and several thousand “disappeared” in the aftermath of the most deadly episode of ethnic unrest in China’s recent history, according to Uyghur exile groups.
Xinjiang stood out as “one of the most difficult cases we’ve dealt with” in 2011, HRW China director Sophie Richardson said in an interview.
While hundreds remain missing, Human Right Watch said it had documented only dozens of disappearances in the wake of the July 2009 protests.
“We have no more information, nor do the families we’ve managed to remain in contact with, about what’s happened to their relatives since that time,” Richardson said.
HRW also documented “several violent incidents” in Xinjiang in 2011, though it said that culpability remains unclear.
In July the Chinese government said it had killed 14 Uyghur attackers who had held several hostages and overrun a police station in Hotan. Beijing also said that in the same month, a series of knife and bomb attacks took place in Kashgar.
Chinese officials blamed Islamist extremists for the violence and launched a two-month “strike hard” campaign in August which they said was aimed at “destroying a number of violent terrorist groups and ensuring the region’s stability.”
“Under the guise of counterterrorism and anti-separatism efforts, the government also maintains a pervasive system of ethnic discrimination against Uyghurs and other ethnic minorities, along with sharp curbs on religious and cultural expression and politically motivated arrests,” the report said.
China also used its economic influence in the region in 2011 to detain and repatriate a number of Uyghurs authorities said were wanted in connection with the Urumqi riots in 2009, although they did not publicly provide any evidence of their involvement.
Aside from Thailand, Malaysian authorities in August last year turned over 11 Uyghurs to Chinese authorities they had accused of involvement in a human trafficking ring, drawing criticism from U.S. lawmakers and rights groups.
Pakistan deported five Uyghurs to China weeks before the Malaysian extradition. The country had previously deported “Xinjiang separatists” to China on at least three occasions.
“[This] is of grave concern to us not just because of the Chinese government pressure, which we’ve always known existed, but the capitulation of other governments that don’t have perfect human rights records, but at least have functioning governments and reasonably reliable legal systems,” Richardson said.
Many of Xinjiang’s estimated eight million Uyghurs chafe at the strict controls on their religion and culture that China enforces and resent influxes of Han Chinese migrant workers and businesses.
Uyghurs 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.
Reported by Mamatjan Juma for RFA’s Uyghur service. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.