TAIPEI—One of the most-wanted student leaders of the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests has lashed out at the Chinese authorities over deadly clashes between police and his own ethnic minority, the mostly Muslim Uyghurs, in Urumqi.
Wu’er Kaixi, now 41, was ranked second on Beijing’s list of most-wanted leaders of the 1989 protests after Wang Dan but managed to escape China and settle first in the United States and now in Taiwan.
His appearance in the international media as the protests escalated, and were then put down with deadly force, marked the first time most Westerners had heard of the Uyghur people, who live mainly in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR) and have chafed for decades against Beijing’s rule.
“In any city in the world, a clash resulting in the deaths of more than 100 people is a serious matter,” Wu’er, himself a Beijing native, told a news conference here, referring to Sunday’s deadly clash between Uyghur protesters and police in which at least 156 people were killed.
“If—and I emphasize the word if—you say the riot was started by a mob, then at the very least it shows that the Chinese government does not know how to lead,” he said, speaking in Mandarin.
“Our understanding is that it was not a mob but a peaceful march. It just shows that the Chinese government’s oppression of ethnic minorities is absolutely ruthless,” he said.
“The Chinese government is trying to send a message to the Uyghurs and to the world: Crackdowns on such incidents will be merciless.”
Wu’er also charged that, among the parents of the most-wanted student leaders of the 1989 movement, only his have been barred from traveling abroad ever since.
“Chai Ling’s name came after mine on the most-wanted list. How come her parents were allowed to travel abroad? Wang Dan’s parents were also allowed to travel abroad,” he said.
“I am the only one of the 21 people on the most-wanted list whose parents haven’t been allowed to travel abroad. Is it because of my ethnicity? I don’t know. I hope not.”
Original reporting by Hu Hanqiang for RFA’s Mandarin service. Translatiom by Mandarin service director Jennifer Chou. Written and produced in English by Sarah Jackson-Han.