East Turkestan: Chinese oppression behind riots

July 11, 2009

On July 5, hundreds were killed in the East Turkestan capital, Urumqi, after protests by Uyghurs against racism and discrimination were attacked by Chinese security forces.

Like neighbouring Tibet, East Turkestan has been occupied by China since the 1950s. Government-sponsored transmigration has increased the proportion of ethnic Chinese from 7% before occupation to more than half the population today.

Uyghurs are the largest indigenous nationality in East Turkestan, which is officially known by its Chinese name Xinjiang. The Uyghur language is being phased out of the education system.

East Turkestan produces raw materials essential for China's industrial growth, including coal, oil, gas and cotton. However, the employment and economic opportunity created by the development of these resources has largely benefited transmigrants. Many Uyghurs work seasonally in the manufacturing centres of south-east China.

Chinese authorities said 156 people were killed in the disturbances, mainly Han Chinese civilians attacked by Uyghur rioters. However, a July 7 statement by the World Uyghur Congress, which represents exiled Uyghurs, said the violence began after the police and army attacked the protest with tear gas and gunfire.

The WUC put the death toll at 800, mainly Uyghur non-violent protesters killed by security forces.

The 10,000-strong protest was in response to perceived inaction by the authorities after a June 29 pogrom against Uyghur migrant workers employed in a toy factory in Shaoguan, Guangdong province, in China.

Authorities have admitted two deaths in the pogrom, but the WUC said there were 18. A July 5 statement by the East Turkestan Information Centre put the toll at 26.

Since July 5, there have been vigilante attacks by Chinese transmigrants against Uyghurs, US TV network ABC reported on July 8.

The July 9 Times said there had also been clashes between security forces and Uyghur women protesting for the return of detained family members. The article said many were arrested despite having had nothing to do with the July 5 protests and riots.

Local Chinese Communist Party head Li Zhi threatened detainees found guilty of instigating the unrest with the death penalty, the July 9 New York Times said.

East Turkestan is the only place controlled by the Chinese state where public executions for political offences still often occur.

China has used the anti-Muslim racism of the West's "war on terror" to demonise East Turkestan's Muslim nationalities fighting for self-determination.

China routinely blames unrest in East Turkestan on the al-Qaeda-linked East Turkestan Islamic Movement, despite scant evidence that this small, shadowy group still exists.

The United Nations and US both listed ETIM as a terrorist organisation in 2002.

However, China blamed the latest unrest on the WUC. The July 7 People's Daily accused the WUC's Washington-based leader Rebiya Kadeer of "colluding with terrorists and Islamic extremists and ... following in the footsteps of [exiled Tibetan leader] the Dalai Lama".

You need Green Left, and we need you!

Green Left is funded by contributions from readers and supporters. Help us reach our funding target.

Make a One-off Donation or choose from one of our Monthly Donation options.

Become a supporter to get the digital edition for $5 per month or the print edition for $10 per month. One-time payment options are available.

You can also call 1800 634 206 to make a donation or to become a supporter. Thank you.