Chinese authorities have added six ethnic Uyghurs in Xinjiang to a terror list, triggering a protest from an exile dissident group which accused Beijing of exaggerating the terrorist threat to crack down on minority Uyghurs in the northwestern region.
The Chinese Ministry of Public Security said in a statement on its website Thursday that the six were core members of the East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM), a group China blames for inciting unrest among Uyghurs who claim they are being persecuted for opposing Chinese rule in their homeland.
The ministry said it would be freezing the assets of the six men it accused of being involved in recruiting, training, and publicizing attacks in the Xinjiang region, including some in Kashgar in July 2011.
A ministry spokesman said the group is “the most direct and real safety threat that China faces,” accusing it of fueling “separatism, extremism and terrorism” in China, the official Xinhua News Agency reported.
Following the publication of the list, China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman Hong Lei charged that the East Turkestan Islamic Movement was a global threat and sought international cooperation in its anti-terrorism efforts.
“This organization’s terrorist activity not only threatens China’s national security, but also forms a threat to regional and world peace and harmony,” he said.
“The crackdown on the East Turkestan Islamic Movement is a part of an international crackdown on terrorism. We hope all relevant countries work together to fight against terrorism, and maintain world peace and stability,” he said.
The U.N. has declared ETIM a terrorist organization. But some experts doubt terror cells operate in Xinjiang, and exiled groups and human rights activists have said China overstates the threat posed by militants there.
The World Uyghur Congress, a Uyghur rights group based in Europe, expressed concern Friday over the new terror list and accused China of exaggerating the terrorist threat in the region in order to crack down on Uyghurs.
“I urge the international community to condemn China’s opportunistic use of the ‘global war on terror’ as an excuse to crackdown on legitimate Uyghur dissent, and to systematically violate the human rights of the Uyghur people,” the exile group’s president, Rebiya Kadeer, said in a statement.
The Ministry of Public Security identified the six as Nurmemet Memetimin, Abdulkyum Kurban, Paruh Tursun, Tursunjan Ebibla, Nurmemet Raxit, and Mamat Imin Nurmamat, linking them to recent incidents of unrest.
It said Nurmemet Memetimin had set up a training camp in an unnamed Southeast Asian country—likely Pakistan—in 1997. After escaping from a 10-year jail term there in 2006, he trained another member of ETIM who was responsible for the knife and bomb attacks in Kashgar in July 2011, it said.
Abdulkyum Kurban, as ETIM’s propaganda chief, had “inspired extremists in China to conduct suicide bombings and hack civilians with cleavers,” Xinhua said.
The others were accused of recruiting members, funding terrorist acts, and creating terrorist propaganda.
Xinjiang has seen a series of violent attacks in recent years 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.”
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 Rachel Vandenbrink.