[JURIST] Amnesty International (AI) [advocacy website] on Friday urged the Chinese government to launch an independent investigation [report, PDF] into the July 2009 Xinjiang riots [JURIST news archive], after receiving new testimony contradicting the current official version of events. AI claims that police officials committed several human rights violations [press release] during the riots, including arbitrary arrests, shootings to disperse peaceful protesters and the excessive use of force. AI has also called for transparent judicial proceedings in accordance with international standards for those arrested during the riots. Addressing the importance of the new testimony, AI stated in its report:
The Chinese authorities have prevented adequate investigation of the July 2009 protests and their background. Consequently, many details of the events remain disputed or are unknown. According to the eyewitness testimonies obtained by Amnesty International, a violent police crackdown on peaceful Uighur demonstrators preceded the eruption of violence on 5 July. Chinese authorities, however, within hours blamed overseas Uighur groups … for what they described as “premeditated violence” … a consistent pattern of allegations emerges from the accounts collected by Amnesty International of acts by the security forces that constitute human rights violations which should be fully investigated. It is imperative that the Chinese authorities allow independent and impartial investigation into the events of July 2009, including full access to scenes of confrontation, eyewitnesses, and detainees, whilst ensuring that those providing information to the investigation are protected from harassment, intimidation or punishment.
According to official statistics, at least 198 people have been sentenced [JURIST report] as a result of the Xinjiang riots, including 35 death sentences. Nine people are known to have already been executed.
The actions of the Chinese government in the aftermath of the riots have also been heavily criticized [JURIST report] by Human Rights Watch (HRW) [advocacy website]. HRW has stated that the trials of the suspected rioters have been marred by infringements on due process and political considerations. Additionally, HRW reported [JURIST report] that more than 40 Uighurs [JURIST news archive] had disappeared while in the custody of Chinese authorities after large-scale sweeps by police. Residents of the region claim that the majority of the deaths were at the hands of Chinese authorities, but Chinese state media has reported that most of the deaths were due to protesters. The Chinese government has admitted that police were responsible for 12 of the deaths [JURIST report]. The Muslim Uighur population is opposed [BBC backgrounder] to China’s restrictive bans on religious practice and says that the recent influx of Han Chinese has disenfranchised non-Chinese-speaking Uighurs. Violence broke out July 5, after Uighurs attacked Han Chinese during protests ignited by an attack at a factory in southern China that left two Uighurs dead.