156 Killed in Xinjiang Violence; Twitter Blocked (Updated)

The official death toll of the violence in Xinjiang in yesterday’s riots stands at 140, with more than 800 injured. From ABC.net.au:

The streets of now appear to be calm, but the evidence of a bitter day of struggle can be seen everywhere.

The protesters say they want an investigation into earlier attacks on fellow Uighurs, claiming they have seen footage on the internet of Uighur workers being bashed to death by Han Chinese at a toy factory in southern China on June 25.

Local television has shown graphic images of Han Chinese pedestrians who were covered in blood after being attacked by the crowd.

Other footage showed one woman being knocked to the ground and men can be seen kicking her.

AFP reports on the use of the Internet in getting information about the riots out to the world, and on the government efforts to crack down:

The communist authorities who built the so-called Great Firewall of China raced to stamp out video, images and words posted by Internet users about the unrest on Sunday which, officials said, left at least 140 people dead.

Twitter and YouTube appeared to be blocked in China late on Monday afternoon, while leading Chinese search engines would not give results for “Urumqi”, the city in Xinjiang where the riots occurred.

Traditional press also carried only the official version of events, which blamed the unrest on ethnic Muslim Uighurs.

But similar to the phenomenon seen last month during Iran’s political turmoil, pictures, videos and updates from Urumqi poured onto social networking and image sharing websites such as Twitter, YouTube and Flickr.

Here are some comments from Chinese twitterers:

* 今天,在中国有两个140被干掉——新疆的140个人和140字微博客twitter。
Today, two “140s” were killed in China – 140 people in Xinjiang and 140 character micro-blogging service twitter.

* 为什么出任何事,他们总是第一时间想到封?封不正好说明有鬼么?
Why whenever something happens, the first thing they can think of is to block information? Does this just reveal that they are doing something wrong?

* 封锁消息就如同肇事逃逸,本来未必是全责,但只要是这么一跑,无责也有责。何其蠢!
Blocking information is like a hit-and-run. You may not be entirely responsible for the accident. But if you run away, all responsibility is yours. What a stupid thing to do!

* 根据香港Nowtv记者在现场报道,记者在当局安排下到事发现场采访,包括医院,所见伤者有汉人,回族人和维吾尔族人。在当地采访记者被集中安排住在一起,酒店没有互联网服务,手机信号只能接收不能打出。画面传送只能够依靠自带的海事卫星。
According to a reporter of Hong Kong Nowtv, journalists were arranged by authorities to interview people at the location, including hospitals. They saw injured people, including Han, Hui and Uighurs. Those journalists in the city are all arranged to stay together; the hotel does not have Internet service, they can recieve cell phone calls but not call out. They can transmit their images only by the satellite equipment they brought themselves.

CCTV’s 《Focus Interviews》just had a program on Xinjiang. It did not tell clearly the process of what happened, it accused others of organizing but did not provide a shred of evidence; it said a “few hundred” were arrested but there were no voices being heard from the side of the accused.

* 谎话说得太多,说真话的时候就没有人相信了;坏事做得太多,做好事的时候就没有人相信了;欺负别人太多,被别人欺负的时候就没有人支援了。
Lied too much in the past, no one will believe them even when they speak the truth; done too many bad things, no one will believe them even when they do good things; bullied others too much, when being attacked by others, no one comes to help.

The Internet has reportedly also been inaccessible from Urumqi and other areas of Xinjiang. See also this post from the Wall Street Journal blog and a BBC report.

More videos, images, and reactions from Chinese netizens to yesterday’s violence can be found in this previous CDT post.

See also Josie Liu’s post for CDT on how netizens are getting around the web censorship to express their opinions on this incident.

Update: The death toll has risen to 156, and unrest may be spreading to Kashgar and other areas of Xinjiang, according to this Reuters report.

The Guardian’s Tania Branigan is on the ground in Urumqi and reports:

Four-year-old Aliya, a Uighur boy, lay on a trolley, dazed by his head injury and his pregnant mother’s disappearance. He was clinging to her hand when a bullet hit her and surgeons were now trying to save her life.

These are the testaments to the violence unleashed in Urumqi last night, along with graphic photographs, seen by the Guardian, of bloodied corpses lying in the roads. It was not clear how most of the victims were killed.

Witnesses reported Uighur rioters attacking Han Chinese people and state television showed them attacking passing vehicles. Videos – apparently taken in Urumqi last night – have surfaced of people who seem to be Han, being brutally beaten. But Uighurs and other ethnic minorities were also injured last night, and exile groups blamed the government crackdown for deaths.

See Branigan’s video report.

The New York Times reports on the government’s efforts to control the message about the violence:

Hours after troops quelled the protests, in which 156 people were reported killed, the state invited foreign journalists on an official trip to Urumqi, Xinjiang’s capital and the site of the unrest, “to know better about the riots.” Indeed, it set up a media center at a downtown hotel — with a hefty discount on rooms — to keep arriving reporters abreast of events.

It is a far cry from Beijing’s reaction 11 years ago to ethnic violence elsewhere in Xinjiang, when officials sealed off an entire city and refused to say what happened or how many people had died. And it reflects lessons learned from the military crackdown in Tibet 17 months ago. While foreign reporters were banned from Tibet, then and now, Chinese authorities rallied domestic support by blaming outside agitators, but were widely condemned overseas.

As the Internet and other media raise new challenges to China’s version of the truth, China is deploying new methods not just to suppress bad news at the source, but to spin whatever unflattering tidbits escape its control.

See photographs from Urumqi via the New Dominion blog.

Also, Channel 4 interviews Rebiya Kadeer, the exiled Uighur activist whom the Chinese government has blamed for the violence:

LH: You claim that the demonstration was peaceful, however we have a lot of evidence which you can’t deny, that the Uighurs killed Han Chinese. What is your response?

RK: My reaction is that killing is absolutely unacceptable. If people did kill others I condemn it, but the people demonstrated peacefully and the Government used armed force, with machine guns, and were heavy handed and turned the people’s protest into violence. When 800 Uighurs were butchered by 10 000 Chinese in Guangdong the police did nothing, and didn’t save the Uighurs. And I believe this action created a lot of anger among Uighurs. Chinese people beat up Uighurs and Uighurs beat up Chinese in return – it’s China’s official policy.

LH: What should Uighurs do now?

RK: Uighurs should make their demands in a peaceful way. They should understand that it was the Chinese government which created the problems between Uighurs and Chinese, but there shouldn’t be this problem between people. The Chinese government should also listen to Uighur people’s demands and not oppress the Uighurs. How could Uighurs accept such brutality, killing and arresting innocent Uighurs?