Join our Mailing List

"On my part, I remain committed to the process of dialogue. It is my firm belief that dialogue and a willingness to look with honesty and clarity at the reality of Tibet can lead us to a viable solution."

Countering Riots, China Rounds Up Hundreds

July 20, 2009

By ANDREW JACOBS
New York Times
July 20, 2009

URUMQI, China ? The two boys were seized while kneading dough at a
sidewalk bakery.

The livery driver went out to get a drink of water and did not come home.

Tuer Shunjal, a vegetable vendor, was bundled off with four of his
neighbors when he made the mistake of peering out from a hallway
bathroom during a police sweep of his building. ?They threw a shirt over
his head and led him away without saying a word,? said his wife, Resuangul.

In the two weeks since ethnic riots tore through Urumqi, the regional
capital of Xinjiang, killing more than 190 people and injuring more than
1,700, security forces have been combing the city and detaining hundreds
of people, many of them Uighur men whom the authorities blame for much
of the slaughter.

The Chinese government has promised harsh punishment for those who had a
hand in the violence, which erupted July 5 after a rally by ethnic
Uighurs angry over the murder of two factory workers in a distant
province. First came the packs of young Uighurs, then the Han Chinese
mobs seeking revenge.

?To those who have committed crimes with cruel means, we will execute
them,? Li Zhi, the top Communist Party official in Urumqi, said July 8.

The vow, broadcast repeatedly, has struck fear into Xiangyang Po, a
grimy quarter of the city dominated by Uighurs, Turkic-speaking Muslims
who have often had an uneasy relationship with China?s Han majority.
Uighurs are the largest ethnic group in Xinjiang, but in Urumqi, Han
make up more than 70 percent of the 2.3 million residents.

It was here on the streets of Xiangyang Po, amid the densely packed
tenements and stalls selling thick noodles and lamb kebabs, that many
Han were killed. As young Uighur men marauded through the streets,
residents huddled inside their homes or shops, they said; others claim
they gave refuge to Han neighbors.

?It was horrible for everyone,? said Leitipa Yusufajan, 40, who spent
the night cowering at the back of her grocery store with her 10-year-old
daughter. ?The rioters were not from here. Our people would not behave
so brutally.?

But to security officials, the neighborhood has long been a haven for
those bent on violently cleaving Xinjiang, a northwest region, from
China. Last year, during a raid on an apartment, the authorities fatally
shot two men they said were part of a terrorist group making homemade
explosives. Last Monday, police officers killed two men and wounded a
third, the authorities said, after the men tried to attack officers on
patrol.

?This is not a safe place,? said Mao Daqing, the local police chief.

Local residents disagree, saying the neighborhood is made up of poor but
law-abiding people, most of them farmers who came to Urumqi seeking a
slice of the city?s prosperity. Interviews with two dozen people showed
vehement condemnation of the rioters. ?Those people are nothing but
human trash,? one man said, spitting on the ground.

Still, the police response has been indiscriminate, they said. Nurmen
Met, 54, said his two sons, 19 and 21, were nabbed as riot officers
entered the public bathhouse his family owns. ?They weren?t even outside
on the day of the troubles,? he said, holding up photos of his sons.
?They are good, honest boys.?

Many people said they feared that their family members might be
swallowed up by a penal system that is vast and notoriously opaque. Last
year, in the months leading to the Beijing Olympics, the authorities
arrested and tried more than 1,100 people in Xinjiang during a campaign
against what they called ?religious extremists and separatists.?

Shortly after the arrests, Wang Lequan, the region?s Communist Party
secretary, described the crackdown as a ?life and death? struggle.

Uighur exile groups and human rights advocates say the government
sometimes uses such charges to silence those who press for greater
religious and political freedoms. Trials, they say, are often cursory.
?Justice is pretty rough in Xinjiang,? said James Seymour, a senior
research fellow at the Chinese University of Hong Kong.

In a sign of the sensitivities surrounding the unrest, the Bureau for
Legal Affairs in Beijing has warned lawyers to stay away from cases in
Xinjiang, suggesting that those who assist anyone accused of rioting
pose a threat to national unity. Officials on Friday shut down the Open
Constitution Initiative, a consortium of volunteer lawyers who have
taken on cases that challenge the government and other powerful
interests. Separately, the bureau canceled the licenses of 53 lawyers,
some of whom had offered to help Tibetans accused of rioting last year
in Lhasa, the capital of Tibet.

Rights advocates say that if the trials in Xinjiang resemble those that
took place in Tibet, many defendants will receive long sentences. ?There
is a lot of concern that those who have been detained in Xinjiang will
not get a fair trial,? said Wang Songlian, a research coordinator at
Chinese Human Rights Defenders, an advocacy group.

Residents of Xiangyang Po say police officers made two morning sweeps
through the neighborhood after the rioting began, randomly grabbing boys
as young as 16. That spurred a crowd of anguished women to march to the
center of Urumqi to demand the men?s release.

But none of the detainees has come home, the residents say, and the
authorities have refused to provide information about their whereabouts.

?I go to the police station every day, but they just tell me to be
patient and wait,? said Patiguli Palachi, whose husband, an electronics
repairman, was taken in his pajamas with four other occupants of their
courtyard house. Ms. Palachi said they might have been detained because
a Han man was killed outside their building, but she insisted that her
husband was not involved. ?We were hiding inside at the time, terrified
like everyone else,? she said.

Although it was impossible to verify the accounts of the residents, as
Ms. Palachi spoke, more than 10 people gathered to share similar accounts.

Emboldened by the presence of foreign journalists, the group decided to
walk to the local police station to confront the police again. ?Maybe if
you are with us, they will give an answer,? said Memet Banjia, a
vegetable seller looking for his son. ?Probably they will say nothing
and the next day we will disappear, too.?

But the meeting with the police was not to be. As the residents
approached the station house, a squad car roared up and the crowd melted
away. The foreigners were ordered into the car and driven to the station
house. After an hour?s wait, a pair of high-ranking security officials
arrived with a lecture and a warning.

?You can?t be here; it?s too unsafe,? one of them said as he drove the
foreigners back to the heavily patrolled center of the city. ?It?s for
your own good.?

Zhang Jing contributed research.
CTC National Office 1425 René-Lévesque Blvd West, 3rd Floor, Montréal, Québec, Canada, H3G 1T7
T: (514) 487-0665   ctcoffice@tibet.ca
Developed by plank