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China: Long-standing Uighur grievances behind repeated protests must be addressed

February 5 marks the 14thanniversary of a violent crackdown on peaceful Uighur protesters by securityforces in the city of Gulja (In Chinese: Yining), in the Xinjiang UighurAutonomous Region (XUAR) in China’s far-West. On 5 February 1997 dozensof people were killed or injured in Gulja when security forces opened fireon Uighur protesters. The Uighurs had begun a peaceful protest againstthe banning of “meshreps”, a traditional Uighur form of social gathering,the closing of a Uighur football league, high unemployment among Uighurs,and the closure of religious schools. Many dozens were killed and injured,and potentially hundreds in the ensuing days according to unconfirmed reports.In the government crackdown, thousands were detained, many hundreds disappeared,and there were reports of executions after unfair trials. Security forces cracked downviolently again on 5 July 2009 when Uighurs in Urumqi began a peacefulprotest, this time about perceived government inaction over beatings andkilling of Uighur migrant workers by Han Chinese in Shaoguan, in the southernprovince of Guangdong, in June 2009. Violent clashes between ethnic groupsand Han Chinese ensued, leading to hundreds of deaths. In the crackdownthat followed, as in Gulja, thousands were detained, hundreds imprisoned,and dozens sentenced to death and executed after unfair trials. The government has refusedto allow an independent investigation into either incident and in particularthe use of lethal force against initially peaceful protests. No memberof the security forces is known to have been investigated or prosecuted.These anniversaries mark anotheryear of government repression and failure to address legitimate Uighurgrievances. Rather than achieving the stated goal of bringing about a “harmonious”society, this strategy has only intensified inter-ethnic tensions. Severe violations of civiland political rightsYear on year, the governmentpursues policies which severely violate Uighurs’ civil and political rights.They routinely associate unofficial Uighur cultural activities, religiouspractice and expressions of dissent with the “three forces” of “terrorism,separatism and religious extremism”. Many Uighurs have been arbitrarilydetained and imprisoned on charges of “splittism” or “inciting separatism” for exercising their right to freedom of expression, associationand  religion including their right to enjoy and develop their culture.Particularly severe punishmentsare imposed on those who communicate information considered sensitive aboutthe conditions of Uighurs in the XUAR to sources outside China. Individualscharged with such crimes are denied justice: they do not enjoy fair andopen trials; they are denied legal counsel of their choice; they are keptin long-term detention without charge; their families are often not informedof their whereabouts; and they suffer torture and ill-treatment in detention.Memetjan Abdulla, a broadcasterand editor for eight years with the Uighur service of China National Radio,was sentenced to life imprisonment in a closed trial in April 2010. His“crime” was to have translated into Uighur and posted on the Uighur websiteSalkin a call by the overseas World Uyghur Congress for Uighur exiles toprotest the beatings and killings of Uighurs in Shaoguan, Guangdong Province,in June 2009. Abdulla, in his 30s, had also answered questions from foreignjournalists in Beijing about Uighur reactions to the beatings and killings.An anonymous source who attended the trial reported that official angerat Memetjan Abulla’s actions contributed to the particularly harsh sentence.Severe punishments of such communications help to keep the XUAR behinda virtual information blockade – with only government information andinterpretation of events being systematically circulated. Suppression of Uighurs’ rightto practice their religion is among the harshest in China. According tonew regulations issued in December 2009, no organization or individualmay “lure or force minors to participate in religious activities”, althoughwhat constitutes such activities is not clearly defined. For the firsttime such regulations specify the role of public security forces in carryingout administrative punishment, including detention, for those who violatethe regulations. Parents may thus risk a fine or detention if they providereligious education to their children or allow them to attend mosque. Uighur students have reportedto Amnesty International that they risk being expelled from school if theyare caught going to a mosque. Civil servants in the XUAR, including teachers,policemen, and other government employees, are also prohibited from practicingtheir religion, at the risk of losing their employment and criminal prosecution.Ongoing violations of economic,social and cultural rightsUighurs continue to sufferviolations of their economic, social and cultural rights. Job recruitmentadvertisements published on XUAR government websites have reserved positionsfor Han Chinese in civil servant posts, state-owned enterprises, and privateenterprises. This indicates direct government involvement in discriminatoryhiring practices, as well as their implicit endorsement and failure toprevent discrimination by private employers. Such discrimination has ledto intense resentment. Even Uighurs educated in Chinese universities inEastern China and who are fluent in Mandarin Chinese report employmentdiscrimination based on their ethnicity.Uighurs have reported to AmnestyInternational that employment discrimination against them has worsenedin recent years, fuelled in part by the influx of Han Chinese migrantsinto the region and the policy of “bilingual education”, which has inpractice pushed Mandarin Chinese as the dominant language of instructionin schools, within the judicial system and other realms of public lifeat the expense of the Uighur language. This policy has fuelled resentmenton the part of Uighurs from all walks of life. Many Uighurs have expressedto Amnesty International that they perceive the loss of their languageas one of the greatest threats to Uighur culture and identity. Many tellof Uighur relatives and friends, particularly teachers, who have lost theirjobs as a result of the policy, on the grounds that they do not have therequisite level of Mandarin Chinese. According to one young Uighur woman,“If it continues this way,with Uighur teachers being fired and no Uighur being allowed to be spokenin class, then there won’t be any Uighur language, and then there won’tbe any Uighur people.”In a region in which ethnicgroups constitute around 60% of the population, of which Uighurs are thelarge majority, the government must respect and protect the rights of Uighursand other ethnic groups to enjoy their own culture, to practice their religion,and to use their own language, in accordance with international human rightslaw and standards. For 30 years, after the launchingof economic reforms in the late 1970s, the XUAR region fell economicallybehind the rest of the nation, ranking among the poorest regions, despitebeing richly endowed in natural resources such as oil and natural gas.In May 2010, acknowledging the backward state of the XUAR economy, andthe link between economic development, social stability and ethnic unity,the government announced a large-scale investment program, with promisesof raising incomes to the national average by 2015. For such developmentplans to address the underlying grievances of ethnic groups the governmentwill need to promote debate and actively solicit the views of these groupsin their formulation and implementation and ensure that any resulting economicbenefits are enjoyed equally by all ethnic groups. Furthermore, discriminationin the economic realm, including in employment, land ownership and accessto business opportunities, must be seriously addressed in the implementationof any development plan.    

Source: AMNESTY INTERNATIONAL PUBLIC STATEMENTAI Index: ASA 17/006/20114 February 2011

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