Uyghur American Association extremely concerned over the deployment of drones in Yarkent

Pt, 08/18/2014 - 19:15 -- Kanat

For immediate release
August 18, 2014, 3:55pm EST
Contact: Uyghur American Association +1 (202) 478 1920

The Uyghur American Association (UAA) is extremely concerned over the deployment of drones by Chinese security forces during operations related to a July 28, 2014 incident in Yarkent County.

The domestic use of unmanned aerial vehicles is an extremely serious and disturbing development and UAA believes the use of drones in East Turkestan will only intensify tensions in the region.

The extent and nature of China’s drone deployment in Yarkent is unclear. Reports in China’s state media claim they have only been used for surveillance; however, UAA is troubled that given the lack of independent monitoring in East Turkestan and the severity with which Chinese security forces have conducted an anti-terror campaign in the region, drone deployment may escalate to strike against Uyghur civilians.

UAA urges China to fully disclose how it has been using unmanned aerial vehicles in security operations in Yarkent County. In addition, UAA asks the international community to express its alarm over the militarization of East Turkestan and to seek transparency over the use of drone technology in the region.

“The use of drones over villages in East Turkestan shows that China treats all Uyghurs as state enemies. China is not singling out alleged ‘terrorists;’ it is intimidating entire communities, including the very people its purported anti-terror campaign is supposed to protect,” said UAA president, Alim Seytoff in a statement from Washington, DC.

“The events of July 28 in Yarkent as described by the Chinese state media simply cannot be trusted. Reports have emerged putting the death toll of Uyghur civilians at alarming numbers and the state has done nothing to ensure transparency in the investigation of this incident. The disinterest of government officials in following up allegations of state violence in Yarkent leaves an unambiguous message in the minds of many Uyghurs—their lives are worth less than others. As a result, Uyghurs are now vulnerable to the menacing prowess of China’s security apparatus.”

On July 28, 2014, according to local sources, Uyghur residents in Elishku Township, Yarkent County protested en masse against a heavy-handed crackdown during Ramadan and the extrajudicial use of lethal force in recent weeks in the county.

The Chinese government claimed 96 people were killed during an incident between protestors and security forces. State media added 37 people of the 96 were civilians and 59 “terrorists.” However, overseas media have noted inconsistencies in how the Chinese government has reported on the incident. 

In the wake of the incident, Chinese officials implemented a shutdown of both the Internet and instant messaging services in Yarkent County. Although the incident happened on Monday, July 28, Chinese state media did not report on it until the following day. A Uyghur netizen who shared details of the incident online has been subsequently detained.  

The absence of government transparency and unconfirmed reports citing the death toll at “more than 1,000” or “at least 2,000” have cast skepticism on state accounts.

A People’s Daily Online article dated August 17, 2014, discusses how security forces deployed surveillance drones in Yarkent County during anti-terror operations. According to the article, the drones were used in Elishku and Huangdi Townships in a search for alleged terror suspects. Operations were conducted “day and night.”

Chinese government spending on domestic security has sharply risen in recent years. A report from Reuters dated March 5, 2013 described how the budget for domestic security was higher than money set aside for national defense. In the article, Nicholas Bequelin, senior researcher at Human Rights Watch, said: “A confident government that is not afraid of its population doesn't need to have a budget for domestic security that is over defense spending.” According to a March 5, 2014 article in the New York Times, domestic security budgets have exceeded defense since 2011. On March 4, 2014, Reuters detailed how figures for defense and domestic security spending were not released.

UAA urges China to end drone use in East Turkestan and to practice transparency. In 2013 reports on state use of drones, UN Special Rapporteur on counter-terrorism, Ben Emmerson and UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial killings, Christof Heyns highlight the urgent need for “transparency and accountability,” as well as the state obligation to the right to life.