China’s oppression of Uyghurs remains largely ignored by the global community Commentary
China’s oppression of Uyghurs remains largely ignored by the global community
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Mehmet Tohti [Former Vice President, World Uyghur Congress]: "Horrible video footage posted on the internet regarding the July 5th Urumqi massacre has brought some international attention and at the same time revealed the bitter reality that can be summarized as miserable Uyghurs, cruel Chinese and a generally uninterested world when it comes to the reaction to this tragedy that resulted in more than 1000 dead and the subsequent arrests of as many as 10,000, according to a RFA Uyghur service caller from Urumqi where riots have taken place.

All Uyghurs are unanimous in calling the July 5th Urumqi massacre a tragic event, as both Chinese armed forces and civilian Chinese mobsters were given a free hand in attacking and killing Uyghurs in Urumqi without proper restrictions. It was reported that on the late evening of July 5th, electricity was cut in a mainstream Uyghur neighborhood upon the order of Wang Lequan, Communist Party chief in Uyghur Autonomous Region, and that Chinese military forces the began a "Uyghur Hunt" that lasted the whole night, resulting in the killing and arrest of an unspecified number of Uyghurs. According to the eye witness statements to RFA Uyghur service of Kazak nationals who came to Urumqi for a business trip, 150-200 Uyghurs were murdered right in front of their hotel and the Chinese military cleaned up the body and blood from the streets just prior to dawn on July 6th. According to Edward Wong from the New York Times, "Hospital officials in Urumqi have generally declined to allow foreign reporters to interview injured Uyghurs, but have allowed them to interview injured Han." So far the Chinese government has failed to show any injured or dead Uyghurs out of fear that most of them were apparently killed by bullets shot by the armed forces.

Uyghurs in East Turkistan are in the state of shock and anger for lack of condemnation from the outside world – especially from the United States of America -particularly considering the greater global reaction to the much smaller scale riots that occurred in Tibet last year. The lack of concern from the Western world gave a much needed free hand to the Chinese regime to expand its brutal crackdown throughout the region with the threat of execution to be used for those who have been part of the public unrest.

The July 5th outbreak is just the tip of the iceberg with regard to long existing ethnic tensions and evem hatred between the Uyghurs, who are the rightful owners of "Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region" and the Chinese, who are a migrant boss from mainland China that arrived to colonize the region due to its abundant natural resources and strategic location.

Despite the incorporation of East Turkistan into mainland China in 1949, Uyghurs have not accepted Chinese rule and want to restore their independent statehood while China remains determined to colonize this territory with a massive Chinese settlement program under the shadow of guns. As a result of this program the ethnic Han Chinese population has jumped from 5-6% in 1950s to almost 60% to today, even though many media outlets are using the old census numbers that put the Chinese population in the region around 40%, which is exclusive of the nearly 3.5 million Bingtuan, 1.5 million unregistered migrant workers and nearly 300,000 military personal and their family members. This colonization has brought cultural marginalization, ethnic isolation, social injustice and political deprivation to Uyghurs in East Turkistan as the central government in Beijing has consistently put the interest of the Han Chinese on the top of its priority list.

As early as 1980 China started a "Go West" campaign with tremendous incentives to encourage more and more Chinese settlers to resettle in East Turkistan. After the dissolution of the Soviet Union and emergence of neighboring Turkic republics alongside the border of East Turkistan as independent states, a campaign was launched targeting Uyghurs to prevent a possible break up of East Turkistan from China and thus tighten Chinese control over the region. After 1997, right after publishing an official White Paper under former President Jiang Zemin, the central government identified East Turkistan as a high risk area for Chinese national security and adopted harsh measures to prevent the East Turkistan problem from being internationalized. They established the Shanghai Corporation Organization with the persuasion of the neighboring countries of East Turkistan (Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan) in the name of border security, which put Uyghurs as prime target. Short after the establishment of SCO almost all Uyghur organizations in central Asia that were kept open since the Soviet era were dismantled or sanctioned, a number of influential Uyghur organizational leaders have been assassinated and Uyghur refugees were deported back to China for prosecution.

The September 11 terrorist attacks provided a perfect opportunity for China to step up pressure on Uyghurs and the Uyghur national identity. Further diluting Uyghur identity is a short cut answer for the Chinese government to complete the long-term elimination of a Uyghur voice. Chinese efforts in this regard include branding every incidence of civil unrest or discontent with the terrorism label; increased religious persecution; harsh political suppression; sharp ethnic discrimination in employment, education and social participation; banning the more than 2000 year old Uyghur language from schools and forcefully imposing Chinese education starting from the kindergarten level; implementing the same Chinese law differently for Uyghurs; forcing Uyghur families to send their children to mainland China for employment arrangements while bringing millions of Han Chinese to the Uyghur region to fill employment vacancies; and generally coercing Uyghurs to become like the Chinese by sacrificing their unique identity.

There are further recent examples of Chinese oppression of Uyghurs.

In May 2009 a 33 year-old Chinese teacher surnamed Zhao, who was recruited by government to teach Uyghur pupils in the historical Uyghur city of Yarkend, was discovered to have sexually assaulted more than 20 pre-teen Uyghur girls. For this unforgivable crime, he was protected by the school principal Liu Yu Mei, along with other local Chinese police. One parent of the assaulted pupil traveled to Urumqi to have his voice heard but officials ignored him.

Then video footage surfaced of brutal beatings and killings of Uyghur workers in a Shaoguan toy factory on June 26, 2009, which resulted in more than 56 dead. Both the regional government in Urumqi and authorities in Shaoguan have downplayed this brutal killing of Uyghurs issuing a report of 2 dead and have done nothing to punish the perpetrators.

Ilham Tohti, Economic Professor in Beijing Nationality University and owner of an online Uyghur website intended to promote ethnic dialogue between Hans and Uyghurs has been arrested after the July 5th massacre for his sharp criticism of the government's wrong policy stating that "unemployment among Uyghurs are the highest on earth."

As many independent analysts have pointed out, it was the Chinese government's discriminatory policy that instigated the July 5th uprisings and and so the government needs to review its hard line policies in the region and move towards the prospect of reconciliation.

One anonymous Uyghur posted his outcry as follows:

I am very shocked to find out that the world is much [more] disabled than I imagined. The images show the Chinese in Urumqi are carrying out ethnic cleansing with the protection of the Chinese Army and the Police. The world is not seeing it and could not see it. But they saw it when it happened in Darfur, Even George Clooney saw it. Fareed Zakaria saw it when it happened to Tibetans. Bill Clinton saw it when it happened to Kosovar people. And the world spoke out on behalf of all of them.

But now? They are all deaf and blind."

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