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RFA News 2009-08-06

With trials planned in connection with deadly riots in Urumqi, exiled Uyghur leader Rebiya Kadeer calls for leniency.

HONG KONG—Exiled Uyghur dissident Rebiya Kadeer has called on the Chinese government to take responsibility for last month’s deadly race riots in the northwestern Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR), as the authorities released an ethnic breakdown of the official death toll.

Of the 197 people who died in the riots, 156 were “innocent civilians,” the official Xinhua news agency reported. Of those, 134 were majority Han Chinese, 10 were Uyghurs, and 10 Kazakhs, it said.

“If we take the numbers announced by Chinese government as true, the Chinese government is still responsible  for the incident,” said U.S.-based Kadeer, a former businesswoman who served six years in jail for alleged subversion.

Authorities have formally arrested 83 people in connection with the two-way ethnic violence, sparked July 5 after a student demonstration clashed with police, sending armed mobs from both ethnic groups out onto the city’s streets.

They will be charged with murder, intentional injury, arson, and robbery, according to city prosecutor Utiku’er Abudrehman.

A lawyer based in Urumqi who asked to be identified by his surname, Zhang, meanwhile said several thousand prosecutions were planned in connection with the July 5 clashes. 

“The trials will be conducted in the Uyghur language by Uyghur prosecutors, and lawyers for the defendants are supposed to be Uyghur too,” Zhang said in an interview Thursday. 

“There are several thousand suspects to be tried.”

“I think the government is too rushed at this point in processing these cases. You need time to get a clear understanding of each case, such as who are the culprits and manipulators and who are the followers,” he said.

Kadeer, 62, called on Beijing to treat those found responsible for the violence leniently, or risk further unrest in the troubled, resource-rich region.

“If the Chinese government truly desires peace and stability, it will work diligently to stop the spread of enmity between the Chinese and Uyghur people,” Kadeer said.

“It is in this spirit that we call on China not to seek harsh punishment for those who participated in the July 5 protests.”

Excessive force alleged

Kadeer, who was released on medical parole to the United States in 2005, reiterated the World Uyghur Congress view that the July 5 demonstrations began peacefully and turned to violence only after a “brutal and excessive use of force” by the Chinese authorities.

She said she would have been proud to have been associated with the initial demonstration calling for further investigation of the deaths of Uyghur workers at the hands of a Han mob in southern China the week before, but had no part in its inception.

“I am not proud of the damage that resulted, but I am proud that my people can organize and demonstrate peacefully under the iron fist,” Kadeer said.

“The Chinese government must carry full responsibility for the casualties,” said Kadeer, a former self-made millionaire in China and a favorite of the  authorities until she spoke out about Beijing’s heavy-handed treatment of her people.

Deep roots

Shandong-based writer and Chinese Hui Muslim An Ran said the Urumqi violence had deep roots in Uyghur discontent with long-term Chinese policies in the region.

Uyghurs in Xinjiang have long chafed under Beijing’s rule, citing economic inequality, religious controls, and lack of freedom of expression in a political climate where simply talking about Uyghur independence can lead to a jail term for subversion.

An said the government’s attempts to change the hearts and minds of Uyghur Muslims in Xinjiang through their religion appeared not to be working.

While in the region, An said he was surprised to find that children under 18 were forbidden from entering mosques in Xinjiang, and that a growing number of Uyghurs were choosing to pray at Hui mosques, for fear of security cameras in mosques traditionally used by Uyghurs.

“The [government’s] Chinese Islamic Society recently wrote a book of model sermons [for use in mosques], which are mostly concerned with loving one’s country and one’s religion, advocating peace, and not going down the extremist route,” said An, who spent several months in Xinjiang last year at the invitation of a writers’ association.

“The imams are trying to inculcate these themes, but if what you are saying is a long way from reality, then it’s very hard for them to convince people,” he said, noting a rise in youth violence among Uyghurs and a decline in respect for imams, or religious teachers.

“Those young people got tired of hearing it, and what happened in Xinjiang is a reflection of this phenomenon.”

“The imams in the mosques tell us every Friday in their sermons that we should be patriotic and love our religion,” said An, who was questioned by police after calling for the release of Beijing-based Uyghur economist Ilham Tohti.

Tohti was detained days after the Urumqi violence broke out after writing about it on his Web site, UighurBiz.net.

Repeated calls to Tohti’s cell phone and home number went unanswered Thursday.

Chinese officials have denied that any ethnic Uyghur academics have been arrested in connection with the Urumqi violence.

Tohti still missing

Woeser, a prominent Tibetan writer, said Thursday that Public Security Bureau (PSB) officers had visited her after Tohti’s disappearance to tell her that Tohti wasn’t in custody.

The officers “told me that Ilham had left school because of the summer vacation and he wasn’t arrested,” Woeser said in an interview.

“My response to them was this was good news, and I could make a statement in my blog. They said they had no objection but they turned down my request to say ‘Public Security told me that Ilham is safe.’ That is quite suspicious, I think,” Woeser said.

“If Ilham Tohti were safe, then why didn’t he say so publicly on his Web site? Otherwise how can you convince the public he’s safe? What I heard about Ilham is that he is now living under surveillance in a secret location, just like [detained rights activist] Liu Xiaobo, but I don’t know for sure.”

Original reporting in Uyghur by Shohret Hoshur, in Cantonese by Ho Shan, and in Mandarin by Ding Xiao. Uyghur service director: Dolkun Kamberi. Cantonese service director: Shiny Li. Mandarin service director: Jennifer Chou. Translated and written for the Web in English by Luisetta Mudie. Edited by Sarah Jackson-Han.

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