Authorities Pledge Crackdown Following Xinjiang Demonstration and Clashes

August 6, 2009

Authorities in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR) have continued to enforce tight security measures in the region following a demonstration by Uyghurs on July 5 and violent clashes in the XUAR capital of Urumchi (Urumqi). The measures are a stated effort by the government to safeguard stability and "strike hard" against people who officials say incited unrest.

Authorities in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR) have continued to enforce tight security measures in the region following a demonstration by Uyghurs on July 5 and violent clashes in the XUAR capital of Urumchi (Urumqi). The measures are a stated effort by the government to safeguard stability and "strike hard" against people who officials say incited unrest. The Chinese government has provided limited updates on developments in the region and has permitted limited access by foreign media; however, the government also has continued to enforce controls over the free flow of information on events. Violence also was reported after July 5, including when Han Chinese carrying weapons took to the streets of Urumchi. Official Chinese reports on recent events, however, refer largely to what authorities have termed the "'7-5' [July 5] Serious Violent Criminal Incident of Beating, Smashing, Looting, and Burning" or simply the July 5 "riot." Chinese sources continue to report on detentions, injuries, and death tolls specifically in connection to events on July 5.

See below for more information and see a previous Commission analysis and update for details of events starting July 5.

Authorities Call for Stability Above All and Invoke "Ethnic Unity"

High-level officials from the central government pledged in recent days to take steps to secure stability, mete out punishments, and promote "unity" in the XUAR.

  • Chinese President Hu Jintao and members of the Communist Party Politburo's Standing Committee met on July 8 and issued a statement that the government would "firmly crack down on serious crimes" and target "[i]nstigators, organizers, culprits and violent criminals" involved in the "riot," according to a July 9 Xinhua report. "Cadres and the public in Xinjiang should stick to the principle that stability overrides everything," according to the statement as quoted in the Xinhua article.
  • Politburo Standing Committee member Zhou Yongkang visited the region and called for measures to promote stability and promote Party policy. A July 10 Xinhua report paraphrased Zhou as saying, "All CPC members should fan out to communities and villages in the autonomous region to publicize the Party's policies, in order to ensure the region's social stability," and "Every household and every community in Xinjiang should contribute to the ethnic unity in the region." During his trip, Zhou Yongkang traveled to Kashgar and Hoten districts on July 11 and met with security forces there, according to a report that day from Xinhua. Urumchi Party Secretary Li Zhi had said some of the "criminal elements" involved in "beating, smashing, looting, and burning" came from Kashgar and Hoten districts, and that there was organization and pre-planning involved, according to a July 12 article from CCTV (via People's Daily).

In the days after the July 5 demonstration and violence that followed, domestic and overseas media have reported on a heavy security presence and tight security measures in the region. Xinhua reported on July 13 (via the China Internet Information Center) that all residents in the city "were ordered [July 12] to always carry their identity cards or driver's licenses for police checks when they go out in Xinjiang's capital city of Urumqi." Sources reported to Radio Free Asia on security measures in Urumchi as well as other cities in the XUAR, including house-to-house searches in Kashgar and detentions in several cities, according to a July 9 report from Radio Free Asia. For other reports, see, e.g., a July 8 New York Times report, July 9 Associated Press article (via the Examiner), July 9 South China Morning Post article (subscription required), and July 12 Reuters report (via National Post).

Detentions Continue, Official Pledges Death Penalty for Perpetrators

High-level officials continue to pledge to punish people who committed crimes on July 5, including through use of capital punishment, and authorities have reported on continuing detentions in the region. Xinhua reported in a July 10 article that authorities detained 190 people in a series of four operations on July 9 and July 10, in connection to events on July 5. The report follows an announcement by Urumchi Party secretary Li Zhi on July 7 (via Xinhua) that authorities had detained 1,434 people--1,379 men and 55 women--in connection with events on July 5, some of whom "might be released if no serious criminal records were found," according to a paraphrasing of Li's remarks in the Xinhua article. The region's police chief reported early on July 7 that officials had detained roughly 700 people and continued to pursue "about 90 other key suspects" (see a July 7 Xinhua article). The head of the XUAR Public Security Department said on July 9 that "many" criminal suspects already had started to provide details on alleged criminal activity and that police had "found" and "sorted through" cases involving over one hundred suspects, according to a July 10 CCTV report (via Chongqing News Net).

In a July 11 Legal Daily article referring to events in the XUAR, Wang Shengjun, president of China's Supreme People's Court (SPC), called on courts of all levels to be united in their thinking with the judgments and policies of central authorities. Wang called for "striking hard in accordance with law" against "plotters, organizers, and key members" of the "serious violent criminal incident of beating, smashing, looting, and burning," along with perpetrators of serious violent crimes. Wang called for carrying out "education management work" toward ordinary people who had been "hoodwinked." XUAR procuratorates have deployed staff to work with public security organs, and the XUAR High People's Court said all courts in the region would prioritize "striking hard" at crimes that endanger state security as well as crimes of violent terrorism, according to a July 11 China Daily article referring to incidents on July 5.

Urumchi Party Secretary Li Zhi said at a press conference on July 8 that authorities would use the death penalty for crimes connected to events on July 5. "To those who have committed crimes with cruel means, we will execute them." (See the quote from Li Zhi in, e.g., a July 8 New York Times article and July 9 Telegraph article.) As noted in the CECC 2008 Annual Report, as of January 1, 2007, the SPC has resumed reviewing all death penalty cases in China, and the SPC has since overturned some sentences handed down by lower courts. Former SPC President Xiao Yang reported at the National People's Congress session in March 2008: "The SPC has been working to ensure that the capital punishment only applies to the very few number of felons who committed extremely serious, atrocious crimes that lead to grave social consequences." Current SPC president Wang Shengjun created a controversy during his first few months in the post when he stated that one of the factors that should be weighed in deciding whether a convicted defendant should be sentenced to death is popular will. (See the CECC 2008 Annual Report for detailed analysis.)

Beijing Authorities Issue Notice on Lawyers' Handling of Xinjiang-Related Legal Cases

The Beijing Municipal Judicial Bureau issued a notice on its Web site on July 8 calling on justice bureaus, the municipal lawyers association, and law offices in Beijing to "exercise caution" in representing cases related to events in the XUAR. The notice specified that before accepting cases, partners in law offices should look into the issue, "report the matter," and "take initiative to accept supervision and direction from judicial organs and the lawyers association." (See also reports on the notice in a July 13 article from Chinese Human Rights Defenders and July 14 Associated Press article (via Yahoo).) In a July 10 press release, Amnesty International cited sources in China as saying that authorities warned some law firms employing human rights lawyers that the lawyers were not to work on cases related to events in the XUAR.

Additional Demonstration, Sporadic Outbreaks of Violence Reported, "Illegal Assembly" Banned

Following the demonstration on July 5 and violence on July 5 and July 7, media continued to report on occasional outbreaks of violence later in the week as well as another demonstration. As of July 8, a traffic curfew had been suspended, "and a strengthened military force, aided by helicopters clattering overhead, kept streets largely calm," according to a July 8 New York Times article. The article also noted "a few reports of violence" on July 8. (See also a July 9 South China Morning Post article (subscription required).)

Worshipers for Friday prayers on July 10 challenged the government's orders to close mosques early, and about 40 Uyghurs attempted to march the same day, according to a July 10 Associated Press report (via Canadian Broadcasting Corporation). (For more information on reports of the government closing mosques in Urumchi, see also a July 10 Agence France-Presse report, via France 24, and July 10 Radio Free Asia report.) According to a July 11 report from the State Administration for Religious Affairs, "some imams proposed that religious believers need not collectively gather and worship in mosques during sensitive periods and could worship at home." The report said some mosques in Urumchi stayed open and also reported on mosques that were open in other cities in the XUAR.

The Urumchi Public Security Bureau issued a notice on July 11 banning "illegal" assembly, marches, and demonstrations, according to a July 11 Xinhua report. The notice forbids demonstrations without police permission and says police may use "necessary means" to disperse crowds, according to the report. The report also noted that "there are still sporadic illegal assemblies and demonstrations in some places." The report said police issued the order "to maintain public order and ensure the security of lives and property."

Xinhua reported on July 13 that police attempting to stop three Uyghurs from attacking another Uyghur shot two of the alleged attackers to death and injured the other. According to two people who said they saw the incident, cited in a July 13 Agence France-Presse report, the three Uyghurs were attempting to target security forces.

Authorities' Reactions to Han Chinese Reported to Vary

Authorities' action toward Han Chinese who took to the streets starting on July 7 reportedly has varied. After the July 5 demonstration by Uyghurs and violence that day, Xinhua reported on July 7 that "[s]everal thousand protesters, mostly Han Chinese, marched" in the streets of Urumchi that afternoon. Xinhua reported that the "protesters, holding clubs, knives, axes, hammers and various types of tools that could be used as weapons, shouted 'protecting our home, protect our family members.'" The report said the protests "gradually dispersed in about 40 minutes." Police used tear gas on the crowd, according to a July 7 report from Agence France-Presse (via Bangkok Post).

Elsewhere, a reporter for the Telegraph wrote in a July 9 entry on his blog for the newspaper, regarding "the huge number of Han who took to the streets with their clubs and other weapons to show their anger over what they say was effectively an anti-Han pogrom carried out by thuggish Uighur elements on Sunday night," that "the Han crowds on Tuesday effectively were allowed to go round and round in circles, exhausting themselves in the hot sun while never actually being allowed to reach the objects of their anger." Other reports indicate that some Han Chinese who took to the streets starting July 7 did not stay within set areas and that some carried out attacks on Uyghurs. (See, e.g., a July 7 Reuters report and see sources cited in the next paragraph.)

Xinhua published an article on July 9 stating that authorities helped people regardless of ethnicity. The article detailed how public security officers from the Xinjiang Production and Construction Corps (XPCC) aided three ethnic minority students returning from an exam who ran into a "crowd of Han Chinese demonstrating" (youxing) and "ran away due to a psychology of fear." After "verifying the situation described" by the three students, the XPCC officers decided to take protective measures to "avoid their being hurt by the emotionally agitated Han crowds," according to the report. Uyghurs in Urumchi said government authorities were less strict with Han Chinese who committed attacks on Uyghurs, according to a July 9 Radio Free Asia report. See also information in a July 9 Straits Times article and July 12 New York Times article.

Official Death Toll, Number of Injuries Rise

Authorities said on July 10 that the number of deaths in connection to events on July 5 had increased to 184 people, according to a July 10 New York Times article and July 11 Washington Post article. The government had reported on July 7 that 156 people had died, according to a July 7 Xinhua article, and reported a day earlier that "at least three civilians and an armed police officer" died on July 5, according to a July 6 Xinhua report. Authorities also reported late July 5 that "three ordinary people of the Han ethnic group" died, according to a July 6 Reuters report. Official sources have not clarified the details and dates of each death. Xinhua reported on July 11 that the Urumchi government would give a 200,000 yuan (US$29,300) bereavement payment and 10,000 yuan (US$1,500) for funeral expenses to the family members of the "innocent" who died in connection to events on July 5.

The figures released July 10 were the first since the July 5 report to note the ethnicities of those killed. 137 of the dead were reported to be Han, 46 Uyghur, and 1 Hui, according to the New York Times and Washington Post articles. Other than the initial report of one police casualty and three "civilians," similar details about other people who died remain unreported. Uyghur sources from Urumchi and overseas have disputed the official number killed in the clashes and estimated higher death tolls, especially for Uyghurs, the Washington Post reported.

"The number of people injured in the Urumchi violence on July 5 has risen to 1,680" as of July 12, Xinhua reported (via the China Internet Information Center) on the same day. Based on wording from the article, it appears likely the figure does not include injuries that occurred after July 5. Official sources have not clarified the details and date of each injury.

Chinese Authorities Allege US Support for Alleged Uyghur Terrorism

Chinese authorities have continued to cast blame on U.S.-based Uyghur rights advocate Rebiya Kadeer for events on July 5 and called on the international community to use the same standard to oppose terrorism. On July 9, China's Foreign Ministry spokesperson "said the Chinese government had evidence that the people suspected of inciting the riot had received training from terrorist organizations abroad," according to a July 9 Xinhua report. "The government said it has evidence to prove that the separatist World Uyghur Congress (WUC) led by Rebiya Kadeer had incited and organized the riot," according to the report. A July 8 Xinhua article (via People's Daily) also cast blame on some Members of the U.S. Congress and on the National Endowment for Democracy for supporting and funding the WUC.

The reports have singled out one of the three human rights organizations that Rebiya Kadeer heads. Since her release to the U.S. on medical parole in 2005 following political imprisonment in China, Rebiya Kadeer has taken up leadership of two organizations--the Washington, DC-based Uyghur American Association and Munich-based WUC--and established another Washington, DC-based organization, the International Uyghur Human Rights and Democracy Foundation. See the Web sites of each organization for more information (1, 2, 3).

Nur Bekri Calls for Heightened Political Consciousness at Colleges, Students Reported To Be Locked Within Campus

Reports indicate that college students were involved in the demonstration that began on July 5 and that had been organized earlier through the Internet. (See, e.g., a July 5 press release by the Uyghur American Association.) Some reports also have indicated that authorities prevented students on some campuses from leaving school grounds on July 5 to prevent their participation in the demonstration. (See, e.g., a July 5 Radio Free Asia article and a July 12 report from Xinhua, discussed below.) The government has reported that some of the people detained in connection to events on July 5 are students, according to a July 8 New York Times article.

The South China Morning Post reported on July 9 (subscription required) that students at the Kashgar Teachers College had been held on campus since early July 5, in an effort to stop the students from participating in protests. (The article noted that many of the Uyghur factory workers in Shaoguan had come from Kashgar district and protestors in Urumchi included people who traveled to the capital city from Kashgar.) Radio Free Asia's Uyghur service earlier reported in a July 5 article on the Urumchi demonstration that sources said not many students had participated in the Urumchi demonstration because they had been confined to school campuses for the past three days.

Xinjiang Medical University reported that students and teachers acting under direction from the school effectively had guarded the campus following the July 5 incident, according to a July 12 report from Xinhua. No one from the university participated in the July 5 incident, according to the report. The report said the school learned on July 5 that "extreme speech" was circulating on the Internet about events on June 26 in Shaoguan, Guangdong province, and that a call was circulating on the Internet for ethnic minority students to gather and demonstrate at 8pm on July 5. The school's Party committee decided to take "timely measures," apparently to curb students' participation. The article also described beating back an attack by "thugs" on July 7 and said armed riot troops secured the campus's safety. A source reported to Radio Free Asia on strife between Han and Uyghur students at the university, according to a July 9 report.

XUAR government chairperson Nur Bekri, speaking July 6 at Xinjiang University in Urumchi, called on students and teachers at colleges throughout the region to "further raise their political consciousness," according to a July 7 Xinhua article. He stressed five points: mobilizing Communist Party committees within colleges for tasks such as "understanding students' ideological situation" and "correctly" guiding them; strengthening supervision of students' education and implementing "political and ideological work"; strengthening propaganda education to increase students' and teachers' "conviction in upholding social harmony and stability"; mobilizing "model" ethnic minority cadres and teachers; and "mastering the bounds of policy and isolating and attacking enemies to the largest degree."

Controls Over Flow of Information Continue, Blogger Believed To Be Detained

While media have had access to Urumchi, reports indicate ongoing incidents to curb full access to reporting from the XUAR and to curb reporters' capacity to interview XUAR residents freely.

Noting that the number of Uyghurs injured in attacks by Han Chinese was unclear, the Associated Press reported in a July 11 article (via Maclean's) that its "reporters were not allowed to interview the injured Uighurs in hospitals." Kyodo reported (via Japan Today, July 11) that authorities in Urumchi detained a reporter and cameraman from Japan, along with reporters from the Netherlands and Spain, on July 10. The Japanese reporter said on July 11 that he had since been released, according to the report. Authorities confined to her hotel room a reporter who contributed to Radio Free Asia, according to a July 12 report from RTHK Radio 3 Online (via Open Source Center, subscription required) and July 13 press release from the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ). The reporter later returned to Hong Kong, according to the RTHK report. CPJ also reported that Kashgar authorities detained two Agence France-Presse reporters and an Associated Press photographer on July 10 before expelling them from the city and that Urumchi authorities were reported to have detained for a period of hours at least four journalists from overseas.

Authorities in Kashgar ordered foreign reporters to leave the city on July 10 for stated safety reasons, according to an Agence France-Presse report (via Straits Times, July 10). Authorities had said that a demonstration in the city had been peacefully dispersed earlier in the week and denied an overseas report of killings in the city, according to a July 10 South China Morning Post article (subscription only). Kashgar "welcomes foreign reporters to cover news in the area in accordance with related laws and proper procedures," a Kashgar official said on July 10, as cited in a Xinhua article (via CCTV, July 10). As of 10:30 that morning, the Kashgar district government's information office had not received applications to carry out reporting, according to the article.

Controls over the Internet also remain in force. "We cut Internet connection in some areas of Urumqi in order to quench the riot quickly and prevent violence from spreading to other places," according to a Party official quoted in a July 7 Xinhua report. The Congressional-Executive Commission on China was unable to access news and government Web sites, as well as discussion sites, after July 5, and blocks on access to such sites appeared to remain in force, according to Commission monitoring of Web sites through July 13.

Amid news of tightened controls over the Internet, reports indicate that authorities appear to have detained Ilham Tohti (Toxti), founder of the Web site Uyghur Online (Uyghur Biz). Ilham Tohti reported on July 8 that he had received notice that he would be detained, according to a July 9 Associated Press article (via Washington Post). Associates reported his whereabouts unknown after that time. Days earlier, XUAR government chairperson Nur Bekri alleged that Ilham Tohti's Web site contributed to incitement of rioting in Urumchi on July 5, according to the report. Ilham Tohti's Web site addressed issues of ethnicity in China, and Ilham Tohti had criticized government policy in the XUAR on the Web site and elsewhere. Authorities had closed the Web site on multiple occasions in the past and had earlier interrogated Ilham Tohti, accusing him of separatism.

Security Tight in XUAR Before July 5 Demonstration

The July 5 demonstration, ensuing conflict, and calls for tight security measures come during a period of heightened security controls already in place within the region. Authorities increased security controls in 2008 amid preparations for the Olympic Games, as part of intensified anti-terrorism campaigns in the region, and in response to protests by Uyghurs and Tibetans in China in early 2008. In the aftermath of these events, authorities continued throughout fall 2008 to enforce harsh security measures and widespread ideological campaigns, efforts which continued into late 2008 and 2009. Security measures in the region have targeted acts including peaceful expressions of dissent and independent religious activity.

CECC Recommendations

Call on the Chinese government to:

  • Abide by the guarantees for freedoms of speech, press, assembly, and association contained in the Chinese Constitution, Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights; distinguish between acts of peaceful protest and acts of violence; and not treat peaceful protest as a crime.
  • Allow international observers and journalists immediate and unfettered access to the XUAR.
  • Provide details about each person detained or charged with a crime, including each person's name, the charges (if any) against each person, the name and location of the prosecuting office ("procuratorate") and court handling each case, and the name of each facility where a person is detained or imprisoned.
  • Ensure that security officials fulfill their obligations under Articles 64(2) and 71(2) of China’s Criminal Procedure Law to inform relatives and work places where detainees are being held.
  • Allow access by diplomats and other international observers to the trials of people charged with protest-related crimes.

See the CECC 2008 Annual Report for other recommendations for addressing human rights abuses in the XUAR. For more information on conditions in the XUAR, see Section IV--Xinjiang in the CECC 2008 Annual Report.