WASHINGTON—The stabbing of an ethnic minority Uyghur waiter in the southern city of Shenzhen earlier this month was only the latest in a string of civilian attacks on members of the mostly Muslim, Turkic-speaking community in China, according to exiled Uyghur dissident Rebiya Kadeer.
"We condemn such civilian attacks which are being carried out alongside the Chinese government's continuing crackdown on Uyghurs," Kadeer said.
"We call on the Chinese government and the Chinese people to learn a lesson from what has happened."
Kadeer cited three attacks on Uyghurs in recent months, including the death in detention of Shohret Tursun, a native of Ili prefecture, the unexplained death of musician Mirzat Alim, and the beating and subsequent hospitalization of Urumqi-based photographer Kaynam Jappar.
"The stabbing of Tursun in Shenzhen of China is not a random accident," Kadeer added, saying that her organization, the World Uyghur Congress, had received unconfirmed reports of hundreds more of such attacks.
Shenzhen police have arrested seven Han Chinese men in connection with the Jan. 11 stabbing incident.
Civilian attacks on Uyghur citizens are also taking place in Xinjiang as well as in the rest of China, Kadeer said.
Overseas Uyghur activists say that heavy-handed police tactics and continuing economic and social discrimination against Uyghurs under Chinese rule in the northwestern region of Xinjiang are to blame for civilian violence against Uyghurs.
"The Chinese government’s indiscriminate implementation of death sentences towards Uyghurs is giving the confidence to Fascist-minded Chinese people ... to kill Uyghurs," Sweden-based Uyghur journalist Mirzehmet Muhummed said.
But highly charged Internet debates also reveal that some Han Chinese are angry at what they say is a lack of political will on the part of the police to pursue and punish Uyghurs for crimes such as pickpocketing and mugging for fear of damaging "ethnic unity."
Highly racist language is commonly found in Chinese discussion threads about ethnic violence last July in the Xinjiang regional capital, Urumqi, which flared after police clashed with demonstrators calling for an investigation into the killing of two Uyghur migrant workers, also in Shenzhen.
Most people lack access to anything but official media reports on the violence, in which almost 200 people died, according to the government.
"Another reason behind the surge in civilian attacks is the Chinese media," Mirzehmet said.
"Today, in the Chinese media, when they report about the July 5 incident, they continue their bias towards the Chinese who died."
When using footage from the violence, official media concentrates on the losses and deaths among Han Chinese, according to Uyghurs overseas.
"This type of biased reporting is igniting the hatred of Chinese people towards Uyghurs, and it is the reason for Uyghurs' deaths in jails and on the streets," Mirzehmet added.
Kadeer said strong rhetoric from Xinjiang's regional governor Wang Lequan before the Urumqi violence described the government's crackdown on supporters of Xinjiang independence as "a life-death struggle."
Security remains tight in Xinjiang in the wake of the violence, with Internet and telephone services extremely limited for most of the region's 20 million people. Short-messaging services, or texts sent via mobile phone, were resumed in recent days.
Official media recently reported government plans to increase the number of security cameras in Urumqi from 16,000 to 60,000 by the end of this year as part of a U.S. $461 million security spending program.
Control measures defended
According to Eligen Imibakhi, chairman of the standing committee of the Xinjiang regional People's Congress, controls on communications are necessary to prevent terrorism, separatism and extremism, which Beijing has branded the "three evils."
But U.S.-based Han Chinese historian Zhu Xueyuan said stepped up security measures didn't get to the heart of the problem.
"I am a scholar who is deeply patriotic [but I think] there are fundamental problems with the way the Chinese government manages relations between Han Chinese and Uyghurs," Zhu said.
"Are those problems going to be solved by a few security cameras? It's obvious that they will not. It's still far more important for the government to change its policies," he said.
Uyghurs, a distinct and mostly Muslim ethnic group indigenous to Xinjiang, have long complained of religious, political, and cultural oppression under Chinese rule, and tensions have simmered there for years.
Xinjiang has been plagued in recent years by bombings, attacks, and riots that Chinese authorities blame on Uyghur separatists.
Original reporting in Uyghur by Shohret Hoshur and in Mandarin by Lin Ping. Uyghur service director: Dolkun Kamberi. Mandarin service director: Jennifer Chou. Uyghur translation by Zubayra Shamsudin. Translated from the Chinese and written for the Web in English by Luisetta Mudie. Edited by Sarah Jackson-Han.