July 19, 2011

East Turkestan: Chinese Account of Hotan Incident Suspect

The World Uyghur Congress has released a statement calling on Chinese authorities to allow international journalists to verify the official reports of an incident in East Turkestan in which at least four Muslim Uyghurs were killed.  This incident comes as violence against the ethnic population has worsened and shows no signs of abatement.

Below is a statement released by World Uyghur Congress:

Based on several witness accounts, the World Uyghur Congress (WUC) has serious doubts about the official version of the incident in Hotan, East Turkestan. While the WUC unequivocally condemns all acts of violence, it urges the international community to view Chinese state media reports on the incident with extreme skepticism and caution since similar events in the past have proven that the Chinese government is systematically spreading false information and suppressing any information that contradicts its official narrative.

According to the official Xinhua news agency, “thugs” forced their way into a police station, where they took hostages and engaged in a gunfight that resulted in several people dead. However, according to sources in Hotan, the shooting took place not at a police station, but at the close main bazaar of Hotan, in the Nurbagh area, when more than 100 local Uyghurs peacefully gathered to protest a police crackdown imposed on the city for the last two weeks. Demonstrators gathered and demanded to know the whereabouts of relatives who had gone missing into police custody. Police opened then fire on the demonstrators, killing at least 20 people. Based on information received from one hospital in Hotan, another 12 people were injured seriously, among them four women and an 11-year-old girl named Hanzohre. In addition, more than 70 people were arrested. The WUC fears the number of causalities to be much higher. Since the roads to Hotan city have been blocked by Chinese security forces and incoming and out-coming people are controlled and searched and martial law was imposed by the authorities in Hotan, it is difficult to obtain information on the incident. In addition, Chinese authorities immediately blocked internet searches on the incident within China to avoid that news on the events are spread in the country.

The Chinese government is, in typical fashion, attributing the Hotan incident to the “three forces” (terrorism, separatism, and religious extremism). The authorities regularly use the fact that the Uyghurs happen to be Muslim to appeal to racist stereotypes that unfortunately exist about Muslims and portray the Uyghurs as religious extremists and terrorists. Uyghurs have long practiced a moderate, traditional form of Sunni Islam, strongly infused with the folklore and traditions of a rural, oasis-dwelling population and religious extremism has no roots in Uyghurs’ practice of Islam and remains scarce among the Uyghurs. As during the July 2009 events of Urumqi, the Chinese authorities’ distorted portrayal of the Hotan incident is an attempt to avoid dealing with the actual root causes of such events, namely, the crackdown on Uyghur culture, identity, freedom of expression and religion, as well as the ongoing economic discrimination of Uyghurs in East Turkestan. After the July 2009 events, Chinese officials stated that 197 people were killed during the incidents. However, numerous eyewitness accounts provided to Amnesty International, Uyghur human rights organizations, and media outlets have indicated that security forces committed extrajudicial killings of protesters and that in fact around 1000 people were killed.

The WUC urges the Chinese government to allow international media and observers to freely and independently investigate the incident in Hotan to reveal the real circumstances of the events, and to stop its ongoing crackdown on Uyghurs in all areas of their life to avoid a further destabilization of the situation.

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