Three years after nearly 200 people died when thousands of Uyghurs clashed with Han Chinese in Urumqi after protesting against the death of two Uyghur migrant workers in southern China, Amnesty International reports that dozens who disappeared in the ensuing arrests are still missing:
Those missing include a butcher, a car mechanic, a restaurant manager, a bus driver, a street fruit vendor, a chef, a student, a recent university graduate, a chef/musician, and a recent graduate of a forest design school. Only 19 of these families have allowed their names to be made public. All fear retaliation by the authorities.
It is likely that this group of families is just a small portion of those with disappeared relatives.
Wang Mingshan, the chief of the Urumqi Public Security Department, is reported to have said he had received 300 requests from families for help in locating relatives.
According to one family member, there are more than two hundred families in one county in Hotan prefecture alone with disappeared relatives. Many of these families have been afraid to come forward out of fear of retribution by the authorities. For many families, the financial burden of travelling to Urumqi and Beijing is considerable, nevertheless many have made repeated trips in their hunt for information.
Instead of assistance from the authorities, many family members describe years of threats, intimidation, and even detention for petitioning the authorities and searching for information. The families who came forward publicly with their stories in interviews with Radio Free Asia describe intensified surveillance, threats, and orders to stop speaking to overseas groups.
Amnesty’s director for the Asia-Pacific told Reuters that repression in Xinjiang is “particularly pronounced”. In a Wall Street Journal piece published on Monday, World Uyghur Congress head Rebiya Kadeer wrote that Xinjiang “has become a second Tibet” in the years since the protests:
There is cause for concern that the third anniversary of the Urumqi clashes will further cement China’s existing policies. In anticipation of protests, the Chinese authorities have already announced that the temporary residence permits enabling workers from the countryside to remain in Urumqi have been revoked. Every day there are fresh reports of Chinese police raids on Uighur schools and other religious and cultural institutions.
Just as Beijing persecutes Christians and Falun Gong followers, it has tried to eliminate the Islamic religion which the majority of Uighurs adhere to. Last month, a 12-year-old boy was killed at an Islamic school that Chinese authorities deemed illegal. To add insult to injury, China defends this discrimination as necessary to fight Islamic extremism.
Last year in early July, Beijing declared that the situation in Xinjiang was “good and stable.” A fortnight later, 14 people were killed in the town of Khotan after police opened fire on protesters. Since the root cause of Uighur anguish is China’s determination to control our region permanently, it follows that stability can only grow from the barrel of a gun.
For many years, I have campaigned for Uighur freedom. I have also worked to develop and advance Uighur society. Just before I was incarcerated in a Chinese prison for six years, my main project involved assisting Uighur women to run their own businesses, just as I had done. My experiences brought me to the conclusion that Uighurs will only taste democracy when the outside world understands that there is a moral and strategic imperative to curb China’s brutal reign.
Also this week, Chinese state media reported that two Uyghurs died in custodyafter they and four others allegedly attempted to hijack a plane bound for Urumqi on June 29. Read more about Xinjiang and the Uighur ethnic group, via CDT.