Xinjiang Authorities Continue Detentions, Announce Arrests Connected to July 5 Incident

November 6, 2009

Following the forceful police suppression of a demonstration held by Uyghurs in the far western region of Xinjiang on July 5 and outbreaks of violence starting that day, Xinjiang authorities have reported on continuing detentions and arrests in connection to events on July 5. Some reports from official media on people detained or arrested have been inconsistent, and a number of details remain unknown. The procuratorate initiated prosecution in a first group of cases in September. A court in Urumqi has begun preparing for trials and has selected adjudicators with "high proficiency in policy" to try upcoming cases.

Following the forceful police suppression of a demonstration by Uyghurs on July 5 in Urumqi, capital of the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR), and outbreaks of violence starting that day, Chinese media continue to carry reports from XUAR officials on detentions and arrests in connection to events on July 5, as well as a first batch of cases to be prosecuted. Official Chinese media's English-language and Chinese-language services have differed in some cases in their coverage of the detentions and arrests, and some details about the detentions and arrests, including the total number of people in custody, remain unclear. Reports have used varying terms to describe the detentions. The formal term for "detention" that appears in the PRC Criminal Procedure Law (CPL) is juliu (also frequently rendered in reports more specifically as "criminal detention" (xingshi juliu), which distinguishes it from other formal types of detention, such as administrative detention). The term in the CPL for "arrest" (which requires procuratorate approval) is daibu. Media reports also have used imprecise and informal terms that do not suggest formal criminal detention for the initial act of taking someone into custody, including phrases like "capturing" (zhuahuo) or "catching" (zhuabu) someone. Such people taken into custody may later be placed under formal criminal detention.

Against the backdrop of a criminal law system in which authorities use criminal charges to cast free expression as a crime, a XUAR official stated authorities had held in custody people who were peaceful protesters, and official media reports suggest that some acts of peaceful protest or expression will be subject to formal criminal charges. (See below for details.) While acts of violence during the week of July 5 were reported to have been committed by both Uyghurs and Han, based on wording in the sources cited within this analysis, Chinese authorities appear to have focused on pursuing prosecution of alleged crimes committed on July 5--the day Uyghurs demonstrated and also when acts of violence were primarily reported to be committed by Uyghurs--without explicitly clarifying whether prosecution efforts will extend to criminal acts committed by Han in the days following July 5. An article from official media indicated that Han are among people reported to be formally arrested, but did not provide additional details. (See information below on the first group of arrests for details.) A court in Urumqi has begun preparing for trials and has selected adjudicators with "high proficiency in policy" to try upcoming cases.

The information on detentions, arrests, and trial preparations comes amid reports of steps taken by authorities in the XUAR and in Beijing to curb independent criminal defense activities. The Xinjiang Justice Department has said it will arrange counsel for the suspects, but has left many details unclear. See a related CECC analysis for more information.

Authorities Report Detentions and Arrests; Some Official Media Accounts Contain Discrepancies

Recent reports of detentions and arrests, as of September 11, and information on a first group of cases to be prosecuted, include:

  • The procuratorate has approved the arrests (pizhun daibu) of a total of 237 people in 139 cases, and public security officials also have sought approval to arrest 295 people involved in 175 cases, based on information in a September 11 English-language China Daily report and Chinese-language Xinhua report. The procuratorate has initiated prosecution of 51 people in 14 cases, according to the reports, which appears to clarify information reported the previous week (see below) on cases transferred for review for prosecution. Based on the reports, 956 cases in total have been filed for investigation.
  • The procuratorate has approved the arrests (pizhun daibu) of 196 people in 121 cases related to July 5, and 14 cases involving 51 people have been transferred by public security organs to the procuratorate for review for prosecution, according to the text of a September 4 Chinese-language Xinhua report citing the XUAR government information office. A September 4 English-language Xinhua report (via states, in contrast to the Chinese-language report, that authorities have "prosecuted" the cases. (See Articles 136-149 of the Criminal Procedure Law for general information on reviewing cases and initiating prosecution.) Public security officials have sought approval to arrest an additional 239 people involved in 140 cases, and 825 people are being held in criminal detention (xingshi juliu), according to the reports. The numbers represent the second official statement on arrest figures, following information on a first group of arrests reported in August (see below). The September reports do not clarify whether the 196 arrests include the earlier numbers reported in August.
  • Authorities have approved arrests (pizhun daibu) of 83 people in connection to crimes on July 5, according to August 4 English-language and Chinese-language reports from Xinhua. The English-language article said the information was the first official announcement on arrests from Urumqi authorities. The article reported that XUAR procurator Otkur Abduraxman "said those arrested will face charges including murder, intentional injury, arson and robbery." According to the Chinese-language report, however, those arrested are also suspected of "destroying vehicles, gathering crowds to disrupt social order, picking quarrels and making trouble, and inciting ethnic hatred and discrimination," in addition to the crimes listed in the English-language report. The Chinese-language report noted those arrested included both Uyghurs and Han. According to a July 18 report from the Legal Daily, citing a XUAR Party official, suspects' alleged crimes fall into five categories, including endangering state security, and include over 20 suspected crimes, including splittism and armed rebellion.
  • Following the report of the 83 arrests, an August 23 English-language report from the China Daily (via People's Daily) said over 200 people had been formally arrested and that trials would begin that week, appearing to cite an unnamed Urumqi procuratorate official as the source of the information. The report said charges included splittism and inciting splittism. Hou Hanmin, a spokesperson for the XUAR government called the China Daily report "totally untrue" in an August 25 Global Times report, and another XUAR government official also denied the report, according to an August 25 New York Times report.
  • The head of the Urumqi Public Security Bureau reported that 718 suspects had been placed under criminal detention (xingshi juliu) as of August 4, according to a Chinese-language report that day from Xinhua. See also a report of the detentions in an August 4 English-language Xinhua report. A PRC official later reiterated to the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination that 718 remained in detention and that those who "committed minor offences have been dealt with leniently and released," according to an August 10 Agence France-Presse report (via Yahoo). It is unclear, however, if all other people earlier held in connection to July 5 were outside of some form of custody or oversight as of that date, especially in light of comments from XUAR government chairperson Nur Bekri (below) indicating that some peaceful protesters may remain in a form of unofficial custody or under surveillance. According to an August 6 Xinhua report (via China Daily), "Authorities also admitted that some of the detained suspects in connection with the riot have been released as their offences were minor. But they didn't provide the exact number of those who were released."
  • According to August 2 English-language and Chinese-language Xinhua reports, public security officers said they had detained (zhuahuo) 319 people in addition to 253 detentions reported earlier. The detentions (zhuahuo) of 253 "prime suspects" were reported in a July 29 Chinese-language Xinhua report, which also noted that a batch of suspects turned themselves in. A July 29 English-language Xinhua report on the detentions said they were "in addition to the more than 1,000 suspects detained by July 6."
  • Xinhua reported in a July 10 Chinese-language article that authorities detained (zhuahuo) 190 people in a series of four operations on July 9 and July 10, in connection to events on July 5. This news appears to have been unreported in official English-language media.
  • Xinhua's English-language service reported on July 7 that authorities had "arrested" 1,434 people--1,379 men and 55 women--in connection to events on July 5. The use of the term "arrests" appears to be an incorrect reference to the initial detention of these individuals. (Formal arrests (daibu) of over 1,400 people two days after alleged criminal activity would be unlikely given the usual progression of the criminal process, including the requirement under the CPL that the procuratorate approve all arrests. This terminology is also inconsistent with Chinese reporting. See, e.g., a July 7 Xinhua article (via Nanfang Daily), noting that police had "caught" (zhuabu) 1,434 people.) Some of the detainees "might be released if no serious criminal records were found," according to a paraphrasing of Urumqi Party Secretary Li Zhi's remarks in the English-language article.
  • XUAR police chief Liu Yaohua initially reported early on July 7 that officials had detained roughly 700 people and continued to pursue "about 90 other key suspects," according to a July 7 English-language Xinhua report.

Overseas media have cited sources reporting on widespread security sweeps and mass detentions, including reported mass round-ups of Uyghur men, and some reports indicate detention numbers that would exceed those reported by the Chinese government and Chinese media. Some of the people reported to have been detained appear to have no involvement to either acts of protest or violent activity on July 5. (For more information, see, e.g., a July 6 Radio Free Asia article, a July 11 Telegraph article, July 19 New York Times article, and July 19 Financial Times article.)

Authorities have provided limited information on a small number of detainees or suspects (see, e.g., articles cited above and a list of suspects published in a July 30 Chinese-language Xinhua report), but detailed information about most of the people officially said to remain in detention, including the specific grounds for their detentions, appears to remain unreported. In addition, Chinese media have reported information on the arrest of one man "who allegedly spread rumors used to trigger the Urumqi riots on July 5." According to a July 6 Xinhua report (via China Daily), Kurban Khayum "was arrested for exaggerating the death toll of a factory unrest involving Uygurs in Shaoguan, Guangdong province in June." The article reports that Kurban Khayum was a member of the World Uyghur Congress (WUC)--an organization headed by U.S.-based Uyghur rights advocate Rebiya Kadeer and blamed by Chinese authorities for events on July 5--and that after the WUC told him to "gather intelligence on separatist activities in China by Uygurs and people of other ethnic groups ... in order to carry out activities to split China," he fabricated a report on the number of people killed in Shaoguan. Kurban Khayum wrote to the WUC that "a massive protest should be staged to let the world know about this bloody incident," according to the article. See also an August 6 report from the Beijing Times (via People's Daily). For additional information which challenges the facts of the case as reported by Chinese media, see an August 20 report from the East Turkistan Information Center.

Urumqi 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. The Supreme People's Court said in late July that the government and court will take steps to reduce the amount of death sentences in China, according to a July 29 Xinhua report.

For additional information, see a July 13 XUAR Public Security Bureau notice (via Xinhua Xinjiang) on "reporting and exposing criminals" connected to events on July 5.

Official Describes Taking Measures Toward Peaceful Protesters

Although authorities and official media largely refer to all events on July 5 as a "riot" or "violent criminal incident of beating, smashing, looting, and burning," a limited number of sources have reported that a demonstration took place, and a XUAR official appeared to acknowledge that some participants had protested peacefully. (See source cited below. See also a July 19 English-language Xinhua report, via China Daily, citing XUAR government chairperson Nur Bekri referring to a "student demonstration" on July 5.) Some participants may have been detained and subjected to surveillance or possibly arbitrary detention after being released from formal police custody. Nur Bekri said on July 24 that people "unaware of the truth" who "took part in the demonstrations but did not join in the beating, smashing, looting, and burning," along with those "not deeply involved," had been returned to their "work unit," "community," or "permanent place of residence" for "further assistance and education," following "education" while in detention and after they "pledged to repent," according to a July 24 Xinhua report via Ta Kung Pao (cached page) and translation of the Xinhua report via Open Source Center (subscription required). The reference to returning people to work units or communities and subjecting them to "assistance and education" suggests such people may remain under surveillance or supervision, or possibly a form of arbitrary detention. Other protesters, including organizers of the demonstration, may remain subject to criminal punishment. Chinese President Hu Jintao and members of the Communist Party Politburo's Standing Committee met on July 8 and issued a statement on July 9 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, while "[t]hose taking part in the riot due to provocation and deceit by separatists, should be given education." During an August 4 visit to the Urumqi procuratorate, Zhu Hailun, standing committee member and secretary of the politics and law commission in the XUAR Party committee, called for "digging deeply to ferret out the organizers, masterminds, conductors, and core members in these cases," according to an August 12 Xinjiang Daily report (via PDF of hardcopy and translation in Open Source Center, subscription required).

Trials Initially Reported to Begin Mid-August, Adjudicators with "High Proficiency in Policy" Chosen

Although later reports indicated that no trial date had been set as of late August, a July 31 China Daily report paraphrased a source as saying trials would start in mid-August, and that the Urumqi Intermediate People's Court "has been preparing for the hearings." See also a Chinese-language July 28 Xinhua Xinjiang report. Under Article 20 of the PRC Criminal Procedure Law, intermediate people's courts have jurisdiction as the court of first instance over counterrevolutionary cases, cases of endangering state security, "ordinary criminal cases punishable by life imprisonment or the death penalty," and cases involving non-PRC citizens. According to the Xinhua report, the XUAR High People's Court has already selected from courts within the XUAR adjudicators who have "a high proficiency in policy" and "professional spirit." The adjudicators are currently undergoing training on state and XUAR policies and regulations toward events on July 5, as well as on the PRC Constitution, Criminal Law, and other relevant laws, according to the report.

Following the July 5 demonstration in Urumqi, the Party leading group in the Urumqi Intermediate People's Court launched anti-separatism education in the court, as well as in eight district courts in the municipality. The Party leading group called for cadres and police in the courts to carry out the policy deployments of the Party central committee and XUAR government, according to a July 25 People's Court Daily article (via Xinhua Xinjiang).

UPDATE (2009-10-30): Chinese media reported in late September and mid-October on prosecutions and trials related to events in July. For more information, see the following articles:

For other news reports, see, e.g.:

For more information on events in the XUAR starting July 5, see previous Commission analysis (1, 2). For background information on conditions in the XUAR, see Section VI--Xinjiang in the CECC 2008 Annual Report.