Photo compiled by BBC
Twitter has been blocked (as has Danwei, presumably because of their coverage) and Internet is allegedly down everywhere in Urumuqi – basically, it’s information crackdown time since the proverbial shit has hit the fan.
The standing death count is still at 140 (UPDATE: 156), with 828 recorded injured, though it’s hard to say how valid that number is considering the media blackout.
According to the AP, though things may have calmed down somewhat in Urumuqi thanks to government checkpoints and newly imposed curfews, the protests have now spread to Kashgar as well. Luckily, it seems like the protests there are still just people yelling at each other – rather than widespread violence and death.
So what was all of the protesting about?
The protests were supposed to be a peaceful sit-in in response to what apparently many (anywhere between 1000 to 3000 allegedly participated) thought was a flawed handling of a conflict between Han Chinese and Uighur workers at a toy factory in Shaoguan, Guangdong.
Several Uighur were rumored to have sexually assaulted a Han Chinese female, based on a post on an internet message board. Then on June 26, violence erupted between the two ethnic groups as Han Chinese attacked Uyghur workers in revenge. Two Uyghurs were reported killed and 118 injured before local police said that a disgruntled Han Chinese worker who hadn’t been hired back at the toy factory confessed to “faking the information to express his discontent.”
As Global Voices Online points out, most sexual assault cases don’t erupt in mass racial incidents. But with Han Chinese feeling Uyghurs get “special treatment” and Uyghurs feeling like victims of Han Chinese imperialism and racism, relations between the two have never been particularly stable.
How did a peaceful protest turn into one of the most violent and deadly riots in recent Xinjiang history?
With both sides having something to gain from the way they report the story, it’s very hard to say. According to the Associated Press, the violence started when the crowd grew past the 1,000 mark and people refused police demands that they disperse.
Dilxat Raxit, a spokesman for the pro-independence World Uighur Congress based in Germany, said he received calls from Urumqi describing the protest as peaceful until police used force to try to clear the square. “Riot police were using police batons to beat people,” he said.
One caller he spoke with said police opened fire. Dilxat said some protesters were beaten badly. One of his informants told him that one person was killed. The account could not immediately be corroborated. Video shot from a building nearby and photos from mobile phones taken from the protest showed people running from police and a car on fire. In other shots, smoke rises in the distance and fire engines race to the protest.
Meanwhile, Xinhua has argued that the rioters had been there as part of a World Uighur Congress plot to threaten the stability of the Chinese government. It pointed to comments by exiled Uyghur and WUC leader Rebiya Kadeer for believers in Uyghur separatism “to be braver” and “to do something big.”
The clashes took place between Uyghurs and members of China’s Han community. Several vehicles and shops were also smashed or set ablaze Sunday evening during the violence that the provincial government said was masterminded by the separatist World Uyghur Congress. ‘They took to the street, not peacefully, carrying knives, wooden batons, brick and stone,’ said Wang Yaming, who was attacked by the mob but saved by a group of Uygurs.
As you can probably tell, the Chinese government’s take on the WUC’s nature is kind of different from some other sources.
What is the World Uighur Congress?
For Xinhua, it’s a “separatist” organization formed by “Rebiya Kadeer, a former businesswoman in China, was detained in1999 on charges of harming national security. She was released on bail on March 17, 2005 to seek medical treatment in the United States.”
According to itself, it’s an international organization that “represents the collective interest of the Uyghur people both in East Turkestan and abroad” whose main objective is “the right of the Uyghur people to use peaceful, nonviolent, and democractic means to determine the political future of East Turkestan.” It has categorically rejected Rebiya Kadeer’s alleged role in the “peaceful” protest.
And this (possibly wackadoo tin foil hat-esque) site claims they’re all part of a CIA conspiracy to break up China by inciting unrest. We have not substantiated any of the claims on this site, but if anyone can confirm whether Rebiya Kadeer’s husband DOES work for Radio Free Asia or if Berlin HAS been cultivating relations with exiled Uyghur politicians, we’d maybe apologize for calling the site wackadoo. Maybe.
So what has been the world response?
“”Oops! Not again!” was almost the universal response when news of the unrest came Sunday night, when blood tainted Urumqi, with at least 140 lives lost and more than 800 others injured…
For whoever was behind the riot, or for whatever intentions they had in masterminding the bloodshed, one thing is clear: under no circumstances should slaughters be brooked, violence allowed or national security challenged.”
“All the differences of opinion, whether domestic or international, must be resolved peacefully through dialogue,” Ban told a news conference in Geneva when he was asked about the rioting in the capital of China’s northwestern region of Xinjiang.
“Governments concerned also must exercise extreme care and take necessary measures to protect the life and safety of civilian populations, and their citizens and also protect the properties and the freedoms of speech, assembly and information,” he said.
“This is the basic principle of democracy. That’s what I am urging again to all the countries of the world.”
Chinese President Hu Jintao: [crickets]
Elsewhere on the web:
- ESWN has one of the largest groupings of articles about the mass incident that we’ve seen so far, including links to Youtube videos of the protest.
- Reuters has an interesting Fact Box listing the most major incidents of unrest in modern Chinese history – the most recent previous one happening in Tibet in March 2008. We guess we’ll have yet another sensitive anniversary to add onto the list next year.
- They also have a Fact Box on the Xinjiang region and the political turmoil that’s bubbled out of there so many times we don’t know if we can really call it “under the surface.”
- The Telegraph has answers to questions people who are newer to the whole Xinjiang conflict thing. Like, for people who don’t really know what a Uyghur is.
- Adam Minter of Shanghai Scrap points out that it seems like Western media was more reluctant to call what happened in Tibet “riots,” opting for the much more peaceful sounding term “protest” instead. Bias against Muslims/for Buddhists perhaps?
- The official CCTV video of the riots. Worth watching and then compare contrasting with other videos you may find.