Ethnic tensions lead to more violence in China

The plight of the Uighurs – the much-persecuted, muslim ethnic majority in China’s distant north-western region of Xinjiang – was brought to the public’s attention this morning, and all for the wrong reasons.

Getting reliable info from any part of China during a crisis, let alone Xinjiang, can be difficult. But reports indicate that peaceful protests may have turned violent; Chinese ethnic Han people have been attacked; police have reacted with tear gas and possibly gunfire and scores of people – many reports say 140 – have been killed.

It’s sadly reminiscent of last year’s protests in Tibet, where independent reporting was kept to an absolute minimum by the authorities and the ensuing crackdown by the authorities was particularly brutal.

And the situation for the Uighur people is also sadly similar to that of the Tibetans – employment discrimination with “Uighurs need not apply” signs at employment fairs; close controls on places of worship and religious texts; and the Uighur culture being gradually eroded as schools are stopped from using the Uighur language. Thousands of Uighurs have been detained on charges of “terrorism, separatism and religious extremism”.

We’ve produced a briefing with more info on the threat to Uighurs’ ethnic identity.

Amnesty is calling for an independent investigation of all the deaths and for anyone locked up for exercising their right to peaceful protest to be released immediately.

But in the longer term, the Chinese government needs to look at the restrictions on peaceful freedom of expression, and on discriminatory practices against Uighurs and other ethnic groups, to find an explanation (as against an excuse) for outbreaks of violence among Uighurs and Tibetans alike.

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