Xinjiang riot aftermath

Nurmen Met held photographs of his sons, 19 and 21, who he said had been taken by riot officers as they entered the public bathhouse his family owns.

Countering Riots, China Rounds Up Hundreds

URUMQI, China — The two boys were seized while kneading dough at a sidewalk bakery.

The livery driver went out to get a drink of water and did not come home.

Tuer Shunjal, a vegetable vendor, was bundled off with four of his neighbors when he made the mistake of peering out from a hallway bathroom during a police sweep of his building. “They threw a shirt over his head and led him away without saying a word,” said his wife, Resuangul.

In the two weeks since ethnic riots tore through Urumqi, the regional capital of Xinjiang, killing more than 190 people and injuring more than 1,700, security forces have been combing the city and detaining hundreds of people, many of them Uighur men whom the authorities blame for much of the slaughter.

The Chinese government has promised harsh punishment for those who had a hand in the violence, which erupted July 5 after a rally by ethnic Uighurs angry over the murder of two factory workers in a distant province. First came the packs of young Uighurs, then the Han Chinese mobs seeking revenge.

“To those who have committed crimes with cruel means, we will execute them,” Li Zhi, the top Communist Party official in Urumqi, said July 8.

The vow, broadcast repeatedly, has struck fear into Xiangyang Po, a grimy quarter of the city dominated by Uighurs, Turkic-speaking Muslims who have often had an uneasy relationship with China’s Han majority. Uighurs are the largest ethnic group in Xinjiang, but in Urumqi, Han make up more than 70 percent of the 2.3 million residents.

It was here on the streets of Xiangyang Po, amid the densely packed tenements and stalls selling thick noodles and lamb kebabs, that many Han were killed. As young Uighur men marauded through the streets, residents huddled inside their homes or shops, they said; others claim they gave refuge to Han neighbors.

“It was horrible for everyone,” said Leitipa Yusufajan, 40, who spent the night cowering at the back of her grocery store with her 10-year-old daughter. “The rioters were not from here. Our people would not behave so brutally.”

But to security officials, the neighborhood has long been a haven for those bent on violently cleaving Xinjiang, a northwest region, from China. Last year, during a raid on an apartment, the authorities fatally shot two men they said were part of a terrorist group making homemade explosives. Last Monday, police officers killed two men and wounded a third, the authorities said, after the men tried to attack officers on patrol.

“This is not a safe place,” said Mao Daqing, the local police chief.

Local residents disagree, saying the neighborhood is made up of poor but law-abiding people, most of them farmers who came to Urumqi seeking a slice of the city’s prosperity. Interviews with two dozen people showed vehement condemnation of the rioters. “Those people are nothing but human trash,” one man said, spitting on the ground.

Still, the police response has been indiscriminate, they said. Nurmen Met, 54, said his two sons, 19 and 21, were nabbed as riot officers entered the public bathhouse his family owns. “They weren’t even outside on the day of the troubles,” he said, holding up photos of his sons. “They are good, honest boys.”

Many people said they feared that their family members might be swallowed up by a penal system that is vast and notoriously opaque. Last year, in the months leading to the Beijing Olympics, the authorities arrested and tried more than 1,100 people in Xinjiang during a campaign against what they called “religious extremists and separatists.”

Shortly after the arrests, Wang Lequan, the region’s Communist Party secretary, described the crackdown as a “life and death” struggle.

Uighur exile groups and human rights advocates say the government sometimes uses such charges to silence those who press for greater religious and political freedoms. Trials, they say, are often cursory. “Justice is pretty rough in Xinjiang,” said James Seymour, a senior research fellow at the Chinese University of Hong Kong.

In a sign of the sensitivities surrounding the unrest, the Bureau for Legal Affairs in Beijing has warned lawyers to stay away from cases in Xinjiang, suggesting that those who assist anyone accused of rioting pose a threat to national unity. Officials on Friday shut down the Open Constitution Initiative, a consortium of volunteer lawyers who have taken on cases that challenge the government and other powerful interests. Separately, the bureau canceled the licenses of 53 lawyers, some of whom had offered to help Tibetans accused of rioting last year in Lhasa, the capital of Tibet.

Rights advocates say that if the trials in Xinjiang resemble those that took place in Tibet, many defendants will receive long sentences. “There is a lot of concern that those who have been detained in Xinjiang will not get a fair trial,” said Wang Songlian, a research coordinator at Chinese Human Rights Defenders, an advocacy group.

Residents of Xiangyang Po say police officers made two morning sweeps through the neighborhood after the rioting began, randomly grabbing boys as young as 16. That spurred a crowd of anguished women to march to the center of Urumqi to demand the men’s release.

But none of the detainees has come home, the residents say, and the authorities have refused to provide information about their whereabouts.

“I go to the police station every day, but they just tell me to be patient and wait,” said Patiguli Palachi, whose husband, an electronics repairman, was taken in his pajamas with four other occupants of their courtyard house. Ms. Palachi said they might have been detained because a Han man was killed outside their building, but she insisted that her husband was not involved. “We were hiding inside at the time, terrified like everyone else,” she said.

Although it was impossible to verify the accounts of the residents, as Ms. Palachi spoke, more than 10 people gathered to share similar accounts.

Emboldened by the presence of foreign journalists, the group decided to walk to the local police station to confront the police again. “Maybe if you are with us, they will give an answer,” said Memet Banjia, a vegetable seller looking for his son. “Probably they will say nothing and the next day we will disappear, too.”

But the meeting with the police was not to be. As the residents approached the station house, a squad car roared up and the crowd melted away. The foreigners were ordered into the car and driven to the station house. After an hour’s wait, a pair of high-ranking security officials arrived with a lecture and a warning.

“You can’t be here; it’s too unsafe,” one of them said as he drove the foreigners back to the heavily patrolled center of the city. “It’s for your own good.”

From the New York Times


After riots, China to promote anti-separatist laws

BEIJING — Police have alleged that women wearing long, black Islamic robes and head scarves acted as ringleaders in the ethnic unrest in western Xinjiang, state media reported Monday.

China faced its worst unrest in decades this month when tensions between the dominant Han Chinese and the Turkic-speaking, Muslim Uighurs descended into violence in the regional capital of Urumqi. Nearly 200 people died in the unrest.

Chinese officials said Sunday that police killed 12 people during July 5 rioting — a rare acknowledgment by the government that security forces opened fire in the worst ethnic clashes to hit the region in decades.

The chairman of the Standing Committee of the Xinjiang Regional People’s Congress blamed the riots on “three forces” — extremism, separatism, and terrorism — both at home and abroad, the official Xinhua News Agency reported.

Eligen Imibakhi, the top legislator in Xinjiang, said authorities will speed up local legislation against separatism in the western region that has a long-running independence movement by minority Uighurs, state media reported Monday.

He said the public’s lack of understanding about laws is also an “urgent problem,” adding that the government plans to distribute legal booklets in ethnic minority languages to farmers and herdsmen across the region.

China already has a national law against secession, though there are no similar regional laws. Xinjiang is working on legislation that would “provide legal assistance to Xinjiang’s anti-secession struggle and crackdown on violence and terrorism,” Imibakhi said.

The violence began when police in Urumqi intervened at a peaceful protest by Uighurs, who went on a rampage, smashing windows, burning cars and beating Han Chinese. Two days later, vigilante groups of Han took to the streets and attacked Uighurs.

The government says 197 died in the unrest, with more than 1,700 hurt. Most of the dead were Han Chinese, though Uighurs say they believe many more of their community were killed in the ensuing government crackdown.

Police said alleged ringleaders included women wearing long, black Islamic robes and head scarves who were issuing “commands,” according to footage from security cameras, the China Daily newspaper reported Monday.

“Such dressing … is very rare in Urumqi but these kinds of women were seen many times at different locations on surveillance cameras on that day,” the report quoted unnamed police sources as saying.

The People’s Daily, the official newspaper of the Communist Party, said witnesses and surveillance footage captured the presence of young women wearing white, black, and brown robes with head scarves, along with young men in blue T-shirts, involved in the riot, with the women inciting the violence while the men carried it out.

Over the weekend, the government said rioters had stockpiled weapons and planned synchronized attacks across Urumqi. The report did not name individual sources nor offer concrete evidence.

The China Daily said that in the days before the riot there was a noticeable jump in the sale of long knives. Government officials said authorities had gotten information about a protest beforehand but did not expect such violence to erupt.

Local police said they had received reports of attacks on people and property in more than 50 locations across Urumqi by 9 p.m. on July 5, Xinhua said. Targets included the offices of the Xinjiang regional committee of the Communist Party, the public security and fire departments and media organizations.

Xinjiang Governor Nur Bekri said police shot the “mobsters” on July 5 after firing warning shots, and said 12 people died. He did not say which ethnic group the “mobsters” belonged to.

“The police showed as much restraint as possible during the unrest,” Bekri was quoted as saying, adding that one officer was killed.

Xinhua cited the local security department as saying the rioters were mostly from outside Urumqi (pronounced uh-ROOM-chee).

The Uighurs, who number 9 million in Xinjiang, have complained about an influx of Han Chinese and restrictions on their religion, language and culture. Han Chinese say the Uighurs should be grateful for Xinjiang’s rapid economic development.

However, the ethnic unrest is unlikely to prompt much soul-searching by China’s ruling communist leaders, who are unlikely to change course. An editorial in the People’s Daily said the country’s ethnic policies “most likely require constant improvement and continual development,” but that the overall direction “is completely correct.”

Government officials have been seeking to ease tensions and look for ways to encourage ethnic unity.

On Sunday, Urumqi hosted a multiethnic beauty pageant with contestants from ethnic groups including Han, Uighur, Kazak and Hui, Xinhua reported. Six Uighur models were among the 45 contestants who vied for the title of 2009 Miss Tourism International in Xinjiang.

“We miss the people who died (in the riot), but we also should cast off the shadow as early as possible,” Zhang Tiantian, hostess for the contest, was quoted as saying.

From AP

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