Independent investigations required – A warning about more violence in northwestern China

Per, 12/19/2013 - 12:51 -- Kanat
Map: Society for Threatened Peoples
Goettingen, December 16, 2013
The Society for Threatened Peoples (STP) demands independent police investigations about an incident during which, according to an official statement from China, 14 Uyghurs and two Chinese police officers were killed in the north-west of the country last weekend. "At present, about 15 to 20 Uyghurs are shot dead by the police every month. If the circumstances of these deaths are not investigated by an independent instance, the cycle of violence in the conflict region will grow worse," says a letter that Ulrich Delius, the STP's Asia-consultant, addressed to the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, on Monday. The human rights organization appeals to the United Nations to send an investigative commission to Xinjiang. "The high number of Uyghur victims in many of the police operations in the Autonomous Region of Xinjiang is striking – and it also contributes to the increase of ethnic tensions in the conflict region." 
According to an official statement, the latest incident occurred after enraged villagers attacked police officials who were trying to arrest fellow villagers near the city of Kashgar. The authorities claim that the attackers were armed with knives and improvised explosive devices. In July of 2013, the authorities in Xinjiang had banned the possession of bread or kitchen knives with a blade longer than 15 centimeters, in order to reduce attacks against the police. 
Most of the clashes between police forces and the Uyghur population occurred in 2013 following a ban against religious festivals and in the course of the violent suppression of protests against arrests. "Usually, it is the Muslim Uyghur people whose peaceful protests are violently suppressed. Many Uyghurs have experienced arbitrariness, discrimination and racism by the Chinese security forces. Members of the minority group tend to be treated as suspected terrorists or harassed without any interrogations or an official arrest because of their outer appearance (e.g. beards or veils) alone." 
"China will most probably claim that the incident was an "act of terrorism", just like 190 other incidents in 2012," said Delius. Yet as long as China systematically restricts the freedom of religion of the Muslim Uyghurs, this is not to be seen as an attempt to fight international terrorism, but as one of the main causes of the violence. The Uyghur people are not even allowed to talk about the occurrences in public. Since August of 2013, a total number of 395 investigation procedures was started against Uyghurs who had published reports on similar incidents on the Internet. 110 people were arrested by the police. 16 of them are still facing criminal proceedings and the other 94 were sent to labor camps. 
Ulrich Delius is available for further questions: +49 (0)551-49906-27. 
Translated by Robert Kurth