All of us here today are deeply concerned by the violence in Xinjiang since July 5th, following what would seem to have been government inaction after two Uyghur workers were murdered in a Guandong toy factory on June 25, prompting mass protests.
There appears now to be so much information and misinformation coming out of Xinjiang that it is difficult to know what to believe. The BBC world news this morning indicated that two mosques in the Uyghur part of the capital were permitted to open today, but police later surrounded those leaving prayers and used batons on some of them.
The most carefully reasoned comment I've been able to find on the complex situation is by Ellen Bork, director of Democracy and Human Rights at the Foreign Policy Institute, in today`s Washington Post. I`ll quote two parts of it:
''Unrest in ... Xinjiang, should not come as a surprise... (A)uthorities maintain intense and unrelenting pressure on Uighurs... Party control of the media makes it difficult to know what actually happened when initially peaceful protests became riots. Chinese authorities have arrested hundreds, sent in troops and begun a propaganda campaign against the Uighurs. While majority Han Chinese have been photographed armed with baseball bats, axes and pipes, government control of the media ensures that most Chinese will absorb official propaganda depicting Uighurs as terrorists.
''Comparisons to the uprising in Tibet last year seem apt. In Tibet, peaceful protests by monks were met with force, and demonstrations proliferated throughout the region. Like the Tibetans, Uighurs experience harsh repression of their religion and language. Like those of the Tibetans, Uighurs' efforts at asserting their identity are smeared as subversive by Chinese authorities and used as justification for further repression..."
Human Rights Watch and Human Rights in China
Here is what two respected human rights organizations, Human Rights Watch (HRW) and Human Rights in China (HRIC), have said and are saying. It's important that we have Amnesty International's view, represented by Alex Neve, here today as well.
What worries all of us who advocate the rule of law and respect for minorities across China is Beijing's refusal to acknowledge Uighur grievances. HRW and HRIC have documented egregious restrictions on religious, political, educational, linguistic, and economic rights in the region (http://www.hrw.org/en/reports/2005/04/11/devastating-blows-0
“It’s increasingly clear that both Uighurs and Han have engaged in violence in recent days,” said Sophie Richardson, Asia advocacy director at HRW. “But the cycle of violence will only erupt again if the government doesn’t even acknowledge its repressive policies’ role in creating the volatile atmosphere of resentment in Xinjiang.” Ms. Richardson is correct.
HRW says that the Chinese government must avoid making the same mistakes as last year in Tibet by guaranteeing all Uighur protesters access to defense counsel of their own choosing, to all the evidence against them, and to appeal any verdicts against them.
HRIC, which I understand co-published Devastating Blows : Religious Repression of Uighurs in Xinjiang, with HRW , noted at the time of its release in 2005 that the Chinese party-state was directing its campaign of religious repression against China's Muslim Uighurs in the name of anti-separatism and counter-terrorism. A joint news release by both organizations on the report noted:
1- Devastating Blows unveils for the first time the complex architecture of law, regulation, and policy in Xinjiang that denies Uighurs religious freedom, and by extension freedom of association, assembly, and expression. Chinese policy and law enforcement stifle religious activity and thought even in school and at home. One official document goes so far as to say that "parents and legal guardians may not allow minors to participate in religious activities."
2-Highly intrusive religious control extends to organized religious activities, religious practitioners, schools, cultural institutions, publishing houses, and even to the personal appearance and behavior of Uighur individuals...At its most extreme, peaceful activists practicing their religion in ways that the Party and government deem unacceptable are arrested, tortured, and at times executed. The harshest punishments are saved for those accused of involvement in so-called separatist activity, which officials increasingly term "terrorism" for domestic and external consumption.
3-At a more mundane level, Uighurs face harassment in their daily lives. Celebrating religious holidays, studying religious texts, or showing one's religion through personal appearance are strictly forbidden at state institutions, including schools. The Chinese government vets who can be a cleric, what version of the Koran is acceptable, where religious gatherings may be held, and what may be said.
4-The report also explains how China is using the events of September 11, 2001 and the subsequent "war on terror" as a cover for targeting Uighurs. Although repressive religious policies in Xinjiang predate September 11, the government now asserts that it faces an Islamic-inspired separatist movement with links to international terrorist groups and Al-Qaeda. But Beijing has undermined its credibility by erasing distinctions between violent acts and peaceful dissent. Using Orwellian logic, officials now claim that terrorists pose as peaceful activists.
Since September 11, 2001, China has attempted to position its repression of Uighurs as part of the global "war on terror." By exploiting the climate that followed the attacks on the United States and the fact that some Uighurs were found fighting in Afghanistan, China has consistently and largely successfully portrayed Uighurs as the source of a serious Islamic terrorist threat in Xinjiang. This perception seems to have now become dominant with the Chinese public, which because of the lack of a free media has little ability to compare sources of information and come to independent judgments about this claim.
United Nations Investigation
HRW says--and I presume that HRIC, AI and all persons of goodwill would agree-- that should the Chinese government fail to fulfill these obligations, which are guaranteed under international law, the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights should undertake an investigation into the protests and their aftermath. Can any of us disagree?
The Dalai Lama, The European Union, United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Navanethem Pillay, and the United States have all called for restraint on both sides of the dispute.
Tragically, the situation in Xinjiang is part of a long established practice by the party-state in China of oppressing its own people in their quest for rights and freedoms, including freedom of religion.