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China "silencing Uighurs"

Source : Agencies
Urumqi | 05 Jul 2011

Amnesty International on Tuesday slammed an ongoing crackdown on Muslim Uighurs in their homeland, "East Turkistan", what China calls Xinjiang", two years after deadly riots rocked the region.

More than 200 people were killed and 1,700 injured -- according to official figures -- when street battles between ethnic Han Chinese and Muslim Uighurs exploded in capital Urumqi on July 5, 2009.

The unrest, which lasted for days, was largely fuelled by Uighur resentment over China's rule of East Turkestan and marked the worst ethnic violence that the country had seen in decades.

According to Amnesty, hundreds of people have been detained and prosecuted since the riots, with several dozen sentenced to death or executed and many more sentenced to long prison terms.

"The government is not only still muzzling people who speak out about July 2009, it is using its influence outside its borders to shut them up," Sam Zarifi, Amnesty International's director for Asia-Pacific, said in a statement.

"The general trend towards repression that we see all over China is particularly pronounced in Xinjiang, where the Uighur population has become a minority in its own homeland."

Managers of well-known Uighur websites and journalists have been jailed for posting messages on the protests, or for talking to foreign media, while Beijing has sought the repatriation of those believed to be involved in the unrest from neighbouring Central Asian states, Amnesty said.

Last month, Kazakhstan extradited a Uighur schoolteacher who had been granted U.N. refugee status to face charges of "terrorism" in China, brushing off concerns he could be tortured and that the charges against him were trumped up.

"Attacking every Uighur who speaks freely is no way to resolve the underlying grievances that led to the 2009 protests in the first place," Zarifi added.

"The Chinese government has to listen to the grievances of the Uighur community and address their demands to have their rights respected and their culture protected."

The Germany-based World Uighur Congress also denounced the ongoing crackdown and demanded that Beijing allow an independent investigation into the riots and account for all those killed, jailed or executed.

"For many years, the Chinese government has waged an intense and often brutal campaign to repress all forms of Uighur dissent, cracking down on Uighurs' peaceful political, social and religious activities and independent expressions of ethnicity," the group said.

Locals in Urumqi, when contacted from Beijing, said the situation appeared normal on Tuesday, though there was an increased police presence in the city.

"Always on guard"

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said that while Xinjiang was generally stable and its people happy, it remained threatened by separatists, who Beijing accuses of wanting to set up an independent state called East Turkistan.

"We are always on our guard against the damaging activities of splitists," Hong told a regular news briefing in Beijing.

East Turkistan is strategically vital to China and Beijing has shown no sign of loosening its grip.


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