July 2009 Ürümqi riots: Wikis

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2009 Ürümqi riots
Ürümqi is in the northwest portion of China.
Ürümqi
Location of Ürümqi within China
Location Ürümqi, Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region,  China
Date 5 July 2009 (UTC+8)
Death(s) at least 197[1][2]
Injured 1,721[3][4]
2009 Ürümqi riots
Chinese name
Traditional Chinese 烏魯木齊7·5騷亂
Simplified Chinese 乌鲁木齐7·5骚乱
Literal meaning Ürümqi 7·5 riots
Alternate name
Traditional Chinese 烏魯木齊七·五暴力事件
Simplified Chinese 乌鲁木齐七·五暴力事件
Literal meaning Ürümqi 7·5 Violent Incident
Uyghur name
Uyghur
بەشىنچى ئىيۇل ۋەقەسى
Beshinchi iyul weqesi
"July 5th incident" ‎

The July 2009 Ürümqi riots[5] were a series of violent riots over several days that broke out on 5 July 2009 in Ürümqi, the capital city of the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, in northwestern China. The first day's rioting, which involved at least 1,000 Uyghurs,[6] began as a protest but later escalated into violent attacks which mainly targeted Han ("ethnic Chinese") people. People's Armed Police were deployed, and two days later hundreds of Han people clashed with both police and Uyghurs. In total, officials said that 197 people died,[2] with 1,721 others injured[3] and many vehicles and buildings destroyed; Uyghur groups, on the other hand, say the death toll is higher. Many Uyghur men disappeared during wide-scale police sweeps in the days following the riots; Human Rights Watch documented 43 cases[7] and said that this was likely to be "just the tip of the iceberg".[8]

Rioting began when the police confronted the march calling for a full investigation into the Shaoguan incident, a brawl in southern China several days earlier in which two Uyghurs had been killed.[9] Observers disagree, however, on what caused the protests to become violent. The Chinese central government alleges that the riots themselves were planned from abroad by the World Uyghur Congress (WUC) and its leader Rebiya Kadeer,[10][11] while Uyghur groups claim that the escalation was caused by the police's use of excessive force.[12][13]

Chinese media covered the riots extensively, and the Ürümqi riot coverage was compared favourably to the coverage of the unrest in Tibet in 2008. In the weeks following the riots, official sources reported that over 1,000 Uyghurs were arrested and detained;[14] mosques were temporarily closed, and communication services curtailed. The communication limitations[15] and armed police presence remain in place as of January 2010.[16] By November 2009, over 200 individuals—both Uyghur and Han—have faced criminal charges for their actions during the riots, and seventeen have received death sentences.[17]

Contents

Background

Xinjiang is a large central-Asian region within the People's Republic of China. The region comprises numerous minority groups: 45% of its population is Uyghurs, and 40% Han.[18] Its heavily industrialised capital, Ürümqi, has a population of over 2.3 million, approximately 75% of whom are Han, 12.8% are Uyghur, and 10% are of other ethnic groups.[18]

Tensions between Uyghurs and Han have existed in the area for several decades, and there have been several waves of protest.[19] With the influx of Han since the mid-twentieth century, some Uyghurs feel economically and politically marginalised.[20][21][22][23] Some say that their culture and traditions are being suppressed under the influx of Han migrants[24][25] and an education system that emphasises Chinese language and culture,[26] and that they are denied the rights to worship.[27] On the other hand, some Han people are dissatisfied by government policies which they believe favour Uyghurs, consider Uyghurs "ungrateful" for the economic development that the Chinese government has brought to Xinjiang,[28] and believe laws are more lenient towards Uyghurs than towards Han people.[27]

Uyghurs and the mostly Han government also disagree on the "ownership" of the Xinjiang region: Uyghurs believe their ancestors were indigenous to the area, whereas government policy considers present-day Xinjiang to have belonged to China since the Han Dynasty. According to China's minority policy, Uyghurs are classified as a "national minority" rather than an indigenous group—in other words, they are considered to be no more indigenous to Xinjiang than the Han, and under the law they have no special rights to the land.[26] Xinjiang has been the location of several instances of violence and ethnic clashes, such as the 1997 Ghulja Incident and the 2008 Kashgar attack, widespread unrest preceding the Olympic Games in Beijing, as well as numerous minor attacks.[20][29]

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Immediate causes

Shaoguan is located in the southeast of China, a considerable distance from Ürümqi
Shaoguan
Ürümqi
Shaoguan, the location of the incident that sparked the 5 July protests. Ürümqi is marked in green.

The riots took place several days after a violent incident in Shaoguan, Guangdong. Many migrant workers are employed there as part of a programme to alleviate labour shortages; 200,000 young Uyghurs (many of whom do not speak the local language) have been sent to Guangdong since early 2008.[30] According to state media, a disgruntled former worker disseminated rumours in late June that two Han women had been raped by six Uyghur men,[9][31] although police later said they found no evidence to support the allegation.[32] Overnight on 25–26 June, tensions at the Guangdong factory led to a full-blown ethnic brawl between Uyghurs and Hans, during which two Uyghur co-workers were killed.[33] Exiled Uyghur leaders alleged the death toll was much higher.[34] While the official Xinhua News Agency reported that the person responsible for spreading the rumours had been arrested, Uyghurs alleged that the authorities also failed to protect the Uyghur workers, or to arrest any of the Han people involved in the killings.[34] Uyghurs, dissatisfied with the authorities' response to the killings, organised a street protest in Ürümqi on 5 July to voice their discontent[9][10] and to demand a full government investigation.[35]

Three people seated in a small room. In the centre is a middle-aged woman with black hair in braids, a red shirt and a Uyghur doppa hat.
The Chinese government alleged that Rebiya Kadeer (centre) played a central role in instigating the riots.

At some point the demonstration became violent. A government statement called the riots "a pre-empted, organised violent crime [...] instigated and directed from abroad, and carried out by outlaws in the country"—in other words, that they were planned by separatists using Shaoguan as an excuse.[36] Nur Bekri, chairman of the Xinjiang regional government, said on 6 July that overseas opposition forces of taking advantage of the Shaoguan incident "to instigate Sunday's unrest and undermine the ethnic unity and social stability in the autonomous region, with an aim to split the country".[36] The government blamed the exiled independence group World Uyghur Congress for coordinating and instigating the riots over the internet.[36] Government sources blamed the World Uyghur Congress (WUC) leader Rebiya Kadeer in particular, pointing to phone recordings in which she had allegedly said "something will happen in Ürümqi".[37] Chinese authorities also accused an unidentified WUC member of inciting ethnic tensions by circulating a violent video and urging Uyghurs to "fight back [against Hans] with violence".[38] Jirla Isamuddin, the mayor of Ürümqi, claimed that the protesters had organised online via such services as QQ Groups.[39] China Daily asserted that the riots were organised to fuel separatism and to benefit Middle East terrorist organisations.[40][41] Rebiya Kadeer, president of the WUC, claims that the Ürümqi protests and their descent into violence were triggered by discontent over Shaoguan and by "years of Chinese repression", rather than by the intervention of separatists or terrorists.[42] Uyghur groups claimed that violence erupted when police used excessive force to disperse the crowd.[12][13]

In short, all parties agree that the protests were organised beforehand; the main points of contention are whether the violence was planned or spontaneous,[43] and whether the underlying tensions reflect separatist inclinations or a desire for social justice.[35]

Events

Initial demonstrations

Road map of Ürümqi, showing locations where protests occurred and where they escalated, and where police were dispatched. Protests occurred at the Grand Bazaar in the centre of the map, at People's Square in the northeast, and at the intersection of Longquan and Jiefang Roads in between; protests escalated at the latter two locations. Police were later dispatched to two locations south of the Grand Bazaar.
Locations where protests and confrontations reportedly occurred

Demonstrations began on the evening of 5 July. A protest began in the Grand Bazaar, one of Ürümqi's prominent tourist destinations.[35][44] There were also reports of gatherings at the People's Square area.[45] The demonstration began peacefully,[10][39] and official and eyewitness accounts reported that it involved about 1,000 Uyghurs,[6][46][47] although the World Uyghur Congress claimed that the number of protesters was closer to 10,000.[6]

On 6 July, XUAR chairman Nur Bekri presented an official timeline of the previous day's events, according to which more than 200 demonstrators gathered in People's Square in Ürümqi at about 5 p.m. local time, and about 70 of their leaders were detained. Later, a crowd gathered in the mostly-Uyghur areas of South Jiefang Road, Erdaoqiao, and Shanxi Alley; by 7:30 p.m., more than one thousand were gathered in front of a hospital in Shanxi Alley. At about 7:40 p.m., more than 300 people blocked the roads in the Renmin Road and Nanmen area. According to Bekri's account, after police "controlled and dispersed" the crowd, rioters began to smash buses at 8:18 p.m.[48]

How the demonstrations became violent is unclear.[12][49][50][51] Some say the police used excessive force against the protesters;[12][52][53] the World Uyghur Congress quickly issued press releases saying that the police had used deadly force and killed "scores" of protesters.[54][55] Kadeer has alleged that there were agents provocateurs among the crowds.[53][56] Others claim that the protesters initiated the violence; for example, a Uyghur eyewitness cited by The New York Times said protesters began throwing rocks at the police.[9] Numerous government sources have claimed that the violence was not only initiated by the protesters, but also had been premeditated and coordinated by Uyghur separatists abroad.[36][39] The local public security bureau said it found evidence that many Uyghurs had travelled from other cities to gather for the riot, and that they had begun preparing weapons two or three days before the riot.[57]

Escalation and spread

After the confrontation with police turned violent, rioters began hurling rocks, smashing vehicles, breaking into shops, and attacking Han civilians.[9][12] At least 1,000 Uyghurs were involved in the rioting when it began,[6][46] and the number of rioters may have risen to as many as 3,000.[11] Jane Macartney of The Times characterised the first day's rioting as consisting mainly of "Han stabbed by marauding gangs of Uighurs";[58] a report in The Australian several months later suggested that religiously moderate Uyghurs may also have been attacked by rioters.[16] Although the majority of rioters were Uyghur, not all Uyghurs were violent during the riots; there are accounts of Han and Uyghur civilians helping each other escape the violence and hide.[59] About 1,000 police officers were dispatched with tasers and weapons;[13] police also used tear gas, water hoses, and batons to disperse the rioters, and set up roadblocks and posted armoured vehicles throughout the city.[44][46][60]

Cellphone-captured video of a street in Ürümqi. First, some men are seen climbing out of a bus through its windows and door, and being chased in the streets. Then men with sticks are seen beating several others. A large crowd passes in front of the cameraman; some stop to beat or kick a man lying on the ground, while others keep walking. Throughout the video, several witnesses are speaking Mandarin near the cameraman.
Violence captured on a witness' cell phone

During a press conference, Mayor Jirla Isamuddin said that at about 8:15 p.m., some protesters started to "fight and loot", overturning guardrails and smashing three buses before being dispersed.[39] At 8:30 p.m., violence escalated around South Jiefang Road and Longquan Street area, with rioters torching police patrol cars and "attacking passers-by".[39] Soon, between 700 to 800 people went from the People's Square to Daximen and Xiaoximen area, "fighting, smashing, looting, torching and killing" along the way. At 9:30 p.m., the government received reports that three people were killed and 26 were injured, six of whom were police officers.[39] Police reinforcements were dispatched to hotspots of People's Square, Nanmen, Tuanjie Road, Saimachang and South Xinhua Road. Police took control of the main roadways and commercial districts in the city at around 10 p.m., but riots continued in side streets and alleyways, with Hans attacked and cars overturned or torched, according to the mayor.[39] Police then formed small teams and "swept" the entire city for the next two days.[39] A strict curfew was put in place;[61] authorities adopted a "comprehensive traffic control" from 9:00 p.m. Tuesday to 8:00 a.m. Wednesday "to avoid further chaos".[62]

The official news agency, Xinhua, reported that police believed agitators were trying to organise more unrest in other areas in Xinjiang, such as Aksu and the Yili Prefecture.[63] Violent protests also sprang up in Kashgar, in southwestern Xinjiang.[64] The South China Morning Post reported that many shops were closed, and the area around the mosque was sealed off by a People's Liberation Army platoon after the confrontations. Local Uyghurs blamed the security forces for using excessive force—they "attacked the protesters and arrested 50 people".[65] Another clash near the mosque on Tuesday, 7 July, was reported, and an estimated 50 people were arrested. Up to 12,000 students at the Kashgar Teaching Institute were confined to campus since Sunday's riots, according to the Post. Many of the institute's students had apparently travelled to Ürümqi to participate in the demonstrations there.[66]

Casualties and damage

During the first hours of the rioting, state media only reported that three people had been killed.[10][13] The number rose sharply, though, after the first night's rioting; at midday on Monday, 6 July, Xinhua announced that 129 people had been killed.[67] In the following days the death toll reported by various government sources (including Xinhua and party officials) gradually grew, with the last official update placing the tally at 197 dead,[1][2] 1,721 injured[3][4] on 18 July. The World Uyghur Congress has claimed that the death toll was around 600.[6]

Xinhua did not immediately disclose the ethnic breakdown of the dead,[64] but journalists from The Times and The Daily Telegraph reported that most of the victims appeared to have been Han.[27][68] For instance, on 10 July Xinhua stated that 137 of the dead (out of the total of 184 that was being reported at that time) were Han, 46 Uyghur, and one Hui.[69] There were casualties among the rioters as well; for example, according to official accounts, a group of twelve rioters attacking civilians were shot by police.[70][71] In the months following the riots, the government maintained that the majority of casualties were Han[14] and hospital records said that two-thirds of the injured were Han,[12] although the World Uyghur Congress claims that many Uyghurs were killed as well.[14] According to the latest official count released by the Chinese government in August 2009, 134 of the 156 civilian victims were Han, 11 Hui, 10 Uyghur, and one Manchu.[72] Uyghur advocates continue to question these figures, saying that the number of ethnic Uyghurs remains understated.[49] Xinhua reported that 627 vehicles and 633 constructions were damaged.[73]

The Ürümqi municipal government initially announced that it would pay ¥200,000 as compensation, plus another ¥10,000 as "funeral expense" for every "innocent death" caused by the riot.[74] The compensation was later doubled to ¥420,000 per death.[75] Mayor Jirla Isamuddin estimated that the compensations will cost at least ¥100 million in total.[74]

After 5 July

The city remained tense while journalists who were invited into the city witnessed confrontational scenes between Chinese troops and Uyghurs demanding the release of family members they said had been arbitrarily arrested.[58] Uyghur women told The Daily Telegraph reporter that police entered Uyghur districts in the night of 6 July, bursting through doors and pulling men and boys from their beds, and rounded up 100 suspects.[76] By 7 July, officials reported that 1,434 suspected rioters had been arrested.[77] A group of 200 to 300 Uyghur women assembled on 7 July to protest what they said was "indiscriminate" detention of Uyghur men; the protest led to a tense but non-violent confrontation with police forces.[78][79] A high-profile arrest several days later was that of Ilham Tohti, an ethnic Uyghur economist at Minzu University of China; he was detained by authorities over his criticisms of the Xinjiang government and because the government claimed that his website Uyghur Online helped instigate the rioting by spreading rumors.[80][81] Over 300 more people were reported arrested in early August. According to the BBC, the total number of arrests in connection with the riots was over 1,500.[14] The Financial Times estimated that the number was higher, citing an insider saying that some 4,000 arrests had already taken place by mid July, and that Urumqi's prisons were so full that newly arrested people were being held in a People's Liberation Army warehouse.[82] Rebiya Kadeer claimed an even higher number, saying that "nearly 10,000 people" had gone missing overnight.[83] Human Rights Watch documented 43 cases of Uyghur men who disappeared after being taken away by Chinese security forces in large-scale sweeps of Uyghur neighborhoods overnight on 6-7 July,[49] and said that this was likely to be "just the tip of the iceberg";[8] HRW allege that young men, mostly in their 20s, had been unlawfully arrested and have not been seen or heard from since.[49]

On 7 July, there were large-scale armed demonstrations[84] by ethnic Han in Ürümqi.[85] Conflicting estimates of the Han demonstrators' numbers were reported by the western media and varied from "hundreds"[84] to as high as 10,000.[85] The Times reported that smaller fights were frequently breaking out between Uyghurs and Hans, and that groups of Han citizens had organised to take revenge on "Uyghur mobs".[58][85] Police used tear gas and roadblocks in an attempt to disperse the demonstration,[86] and urged Han citizens over loudspeakers to "calm down" and "let the police do their job".[85] Li Zhi, party chief of Ürümqi, stood on the roof of a police car with a megaphone appealing to the crowd to go home.[76]

Mass protests had been quelled by 8 July, although sporadic violence was reported.[87][88][89] In the days after the riots, "thousands" of people tried to leave the city, and the price for bus tickets rose as much as fivefold.[90][91]

On 10 July, city authorities closed Ürümqi mosques "for public safety", saying it was too dangerous to have large gatherings and that holding Jumu'ah, traditional Friday prayers, could reignite tensions.[90][92] Large crowds of Uyghurs gathered for prayer anyway, however, and police decided to let two mosques open to avoid having an "incident".[90] After prayers at the White Mosque, several hundred people demonstrated over people detained after the riot,[93][94] but were dispersed by riot police, with five or six people arrested.[93]

Reactions and response

Domestic reaction

Communications

Mobile phone service and internet access were both limited during and after the riots. China Mobile phone service was cut "to prevent the incident from spreading further".[95] Outbound international calls throughout Xinjiang were blocked,[96][97] and Internet connections in the region had been locked down[98][99] or non-local websites blocked. Reporting from Ürümqi's Hoi Tak Hotel on 9 July, Al Jazeera' Melissa Chan claimed that the foreign journalists' hotel was the only place in the city with Internet access, although she could not send text messages or place international phone calls.[97] Many unauthorised postings on local sites and Google were "harmonised" by government censors;[49] images and video footage of the demonstrations and rioting, however, were soon found posted on Twitter, YouTube, and Flickr.[100] Many Xinjiang-based websites became inaccessible worldwide,[34] and internet access within Ürümqi remained restricted for months following the riots.[101]

Government

Chinese television broadcast graphic footage of cars being smashed and people being beaten.[102] Officials reiterated the party line: XUAR chairman Nur Bekri delivered a lengthy address on the situation and on the Shaoguan incident, and claimed that the government of both Guangdong and Xinjiang had dealt with the deaths of the workers properly and with respect. Bekri, an ethnic Uyghur and further condemned the riots as "premeditated and planned";[103] Eligen Imibakhi, chairman of the Standing Committee of the Xinjiang Regional People's Congress, blamed the 5 July riots on "extremism, separatism and terrorism".[104][105]

Bespectacled Asian man in suit
The riots prompted PRC president Hu Jintao to return from the international G8 summit early.

The Chinese media covered the rioting extensively.[106] Hours after troops stopped the rioting, the state invited foreign journalists on an official fact-finding trip to Ürümqi;[107] journalists from more than 100 media organisations were corralled into the same downtown Hoi Tak Hotel,[96][97] sharing 30 internet connections.[96] Journalists were given unprecedented access to troublespots and hospitals.[108] The Financial Times referred to this handling as an improvement, compared to the "public-relations disaster" of the Tibetan unrest in 2008.[106]

In an effort to soothe tensions immediately after the riots, state media began a mass publicity campaign throughout Xinjiang extolling ethnic harmony. Local television programmes united Uyghur and Han singers in a chorus of "We are all part of the same family"; Uygurs who "acted heroically" during the riots were profiled; loud-hailer trucks blasted slogans in the streets. A common slogan warned against the "three forces" of terrorism, separatism and extremism.[109]

President Hu Jintao curtailed his attendance of the G8 summit in Italy,[61][110] convened an emergency meeting of the Politburo, and dispatched Standing Committee member Zhou Yongkang to Xinjiang to "guid[e] stability-preservation work in Xinjiang".[111] South China Morning Post reported a government source saying Beijing would re-evaluate the impact on arrangements for the country's forthcoming 60th anniversary celebrations in October.[112] Guangdong's CPC Provincial Committee Secretary, Wang Yang, noted that the government policies towards ethnic minorities "definitely need adjustments", otherwise "there will be some problems."[113] A security planner said the authorities planned to fly in more troops from other stations to raise the number of armed police presence to 130,000 before the 60th anniversary celebrations in October.[82]

After the riots, the Chinese government exercised diplomatic pressure on nations that Rebiya Kadeer was scheduled to visit. In late July, India declined Kadeer a visa "on the advice of Beijing",[114] and Beijing summoned the Japanese ambassador in protest of a trip Kadeer made to Japan.[115][116] When Kadeer visited Australia in August to promote a film about her life, China officially complained to the Australian government and asked for the film to be withdrawn.[116]

Internet response

The response to the riots on the Chinese blogosphere was markedly more varied than the official response. Despite blocks and censorship, Internet watchers monitored continued attempts by netizens to publish their own thoughts on the causes of the incident or vent their anger about the violence. While some bloggers were supportive of the government, others were more reflective of the event's cause.[117] On numerous forums and news sites, government workers quickly removed comments about the riots.[117][118]

International reactions

International organisations

  • United Nations: Secretary-General of the United Nations Ban Ki-moon urged all sides to exercise restraint,[119] and called on China to take measures to protect the civilian population as well as respect the freedoms of citizens, including freedom of speech, assembly and information.[120] Human rights chief Navi Pillay said she was "alarmed" over the high death toll, noting this was an "extraordinarily high number of people to be killed and injured in less than a day of rioting."[121][122] She also said China must treat detainees humanely in a way that adheres to international norms.[123]
  • Shanghai Cooperation Organisation: The Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) said it sympathised with the family members of those innocent people killed in the riot; it said that its member states regard Xinjiang as an inalienable part of the People's Republic of China and believe the situation in Xinjiang is purely China's internal affairs.[124] Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said condemned rioters for "Using separatist slogans and provoking ethnic intolerance.[125] Officials from both neighbouring Kazakhstan[126] and Kyrgyzstan said they were braced for "an influx of refugees" and tightened border controls.[127][128] Despite the Kazak government support, over 5,000 Uyghurs protested on 19 July in former capital Almaty against Chinese police use of deadly force against the rioters.[129]
  • Organisation of the Islamic Conference: The Organisation of the Islamic Conference decried the "disproportionate use of force", calling on Beijing to "bring those responsible to justice swiftly" and urging China to find a solution to the unrest by examining why it had erupted.[130]
  • European Union: The European Union leaders expressed concern, and urged the Chinese government to show restraint in dealing with the protests:[131][132] German Chancellor Angela Merkel urged respect for the rights of minorities;[133] Italian President Giorgio Napolitano brought up human rights at a press conference with Hu Jintao, and said that "economic and social progress that is being achieved in China places new demands in terms of human rights."[134][135]

Countries

Afghanistan,[136] Cambodia,[137] and Vietnam said they believed the Chinese government was "taking appropriate measures",[138] their statements backed "the territorial integrity and sovereignty of China".[136] Micronesian Vice President Alik Alik condemned the riot as a "terrorist act".[139]

Turkey, which has a sizeable Uyghur population, officially expressed "deep sadness", and urged the Chinese authorities to find the perpetrators and bring them to justice.[140][141] However, its Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan went further, condemning the incident as "like genocide",[142][143] while Trade and Industry Minister Nihat Ergun called for a boycott on Chinese goods.[144][145] The Turkish stance sparked a significant outcry from Chinese media.[146][147] Iran said it shared the concerns of Turkey and the OIC, and appealed to the Chinese government to respect the rights of the Muslim population in Xinjiang.[148][149]

The Japanese government was monitoring the situation, with concern;[150] Singapore urged restraint and dialogue;[151] while the government of Taiwan strongly condemned all those who instigated the violence. Premier Liu Chiao-shiuan also urged restraint and expressed hope that the Chinese authorities will demonstrate the "greatest possible leniency and tolerance in dealing with the aftermath" and respect the rights of ethnic minorities.[152] That said, Taiwan denied a visa to Kadeer in September 2009, alleging she had links to the East Turkestan Islamic Movement, classed as a terrorist organisation by the United Nations and United States.[153]

Street demonstration with banners, passing an official building
Demonstration in Berlin for Uyghur human rights and religious freedom.

Switzerland called for restraint, and sent condolences to the families of victims and urged China to respect freedom of expression and the press.[154] Prime Minister Kevin Rudd of Australia urged restraint to bring about a "peaceful settlement to this difficulty."[133] Serbia stated that it opposed separatism and supports the "resolution of all disputes by peaceful means."[155] Belarus noted with regret the loss of life and damage in the region, and hoped that the situation would soon normalise.[156]

There was violence in the Netherlands and in Norway: The Chinese embassy in the Netherlands was attacked by Uyghur activists who smashed windows with bricks;[86] the Chinese flag was also burnt.[157] There were 142 arrests, and[158] China closed the embassy for the day.[159] About 100 Uyghurs protested outside the Chinese embassy in Oslo, Norway. Eleven were detained, and later released without charge.[160] Pakistan said there were some "elements" out to harm Sino-Pakistan ties, and that Pakistan would ensure the events will not damage or destabilise the interests of the two countries.[161] Sri Lanka expressed concern, stressed the incident was an internal affair of China and was confident that efforts by the Chinese authorities would restore normalcy.[162]

Demonstrators dressed in light blue and wearing blue facepaint, holding blue flags with white crescent
Uyghur demonstration in Washington, D.C.

Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister Lawrence Cannon urged "dialogue and goodwill" to help resolve grievances and prevent further deterioration of the situation.[163] White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said the United States regrets the loss of life in Xinjiang,[131] was deeply concerned and called on all sides to exercise restraint.[119] U.S. State Department spokesman Ian Kelly, said "it's important that the Chinese authorities act to restore order and prevent further violence."[164] The United States Commission on International Religious Freedom expressed "grave concern" over repression in China, and called for an independent investigation on the riots and targeted sanctions against China.[165]

Other organisations

  • Amnesty International: Amnesty International called for an "impartial and independent" inquiry into the incident, adding that those detained for "peacefully expressing their views and exercising their freedom of expression, association and assembly" must be released and ensure others receive a fair trial.[166]
  • Human Rights Watch: Human Rights Watch urged China to exercise restraint and to allow an independent inquiry into the events, which include addressing Uyghur concerns about policies in the region. It also added that China should respect international norms when responding to the protests and only use force proportionately.[167]
  • Central Tibetan Administration: The Dalai Lama expressed concern over "the tragic loss of lives" and urged the Chinese authorities to exercise restraint.[168]
  • Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb: According to London-based risk analysis firm Stirling Assynt, an Algerian organisation called Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) has issued the call for vengeance against Beijing for mistreatment of its Muslim minority.[169][170][171]

Media coverage

Chen Shirong, China editor on the BBC World Service, remarked at the improvement in media management by Xinhua: "To be more credible, it released video footage a few hours after the event, not two weeks."[172] Peter Foster of the Daily Telegraph observed that "long-standing China commentators have been astonished at the speed at which Beijing has moved to seize the news agenda on this event," and attributed it to his belief that "China doesn't have a great deal to hide".[108] A University of California, Berkeley academic agreed that the Chinese authorities had become more sophisticated.[107] The New York Times and AFP recognised the lessons learnt by the Chinese from political protests around the world, such as the so-called colour revolutions in Georgia and Ukraine, and the 2009 Iranian election protests. They have studied the ways that modern electronic communications helped protesters organise and reach the outside world, and the means those governments used to counter them.[107][173]

But Willy Lam, fellow of the Jamestown Foundation, sceptically said that the authorities were "just testing the reaction". He believed that if the outcome of this openness was poor they would "put the brakes on" like they did after the 2008 Sichuan earthquake.[173] There were instances of foreign journalists being taken into custody by the police, to be released shortly thereafter.[49] On 10 July, officials ordered foreign media out of Kashgar, "for their own safety."[174]

A People's Daily op-ed rebuked certain western media outlets for their "double standards, biased coverage and comments". It said that China failed to receive fair 'repayment' from certain foreign political figures or media outlets for its openness and transparent attitude. The author said "a considerable number of media outlets still intentionally or inadvertently minimised the violent actions of the rioters, and attempted to focus on so-called racial conflict."[175] However, D'Arcy Doran from Agence France-Presse welcomed the increased openness for foreign media, but contrasted their reporting to Chinese media, which closely followed the government line to focus mainly on injured Hans whilst ignoring the "Uyghur story" or reasons behind the incident.[173]

Many early reports of the riots, starting with one from Reuters, used a picture purporting to show the riots the previous day.[176] The photo, showing large number of People's Armed Police squares, was one taken of the 2009 Shishou riot and originally published on 26 June by Southern Metropolis Weekly.[177] The same picture was mistakenly used by other agencies;[178] it was on the website of The Daily Telegraph, but was removed a day later.[176] In an interview with Al Jazeera on 7 July, WUC leader Rebiya Kadeer used the same Shishou photograph to defend the Uyghurs in Ürümqi.[179] A World Uyghur Congress representative later apologised, explaining that the photo was chosen out of hundreds for its image quality.[178]

On 3 August, Xinhua reported that two of Rebiya Kadeer's children had written letters blaming her for orchestrating the riots.[180] Germany-based spokesman for the WUC rejected the letters as fakes. A Human Rights Watch researcher remarked their style was "suspiciously close" to the way the Chinese authorities had described rioting in Xinjiang and the aftermath. He added that: "...it's highly irregular for [her children] to be placed on the platform of a government mouthpiece ... for wide dispersion."[181]

Aftermath and long-term impact

Arrests and trials

A vertical, red propaganda banner hanging high on a modern hotel with Chinese writing: "维护法律尊严,严惩犯罪分子")
A red vertical banner saying "Uphold the sanctity of the law, and severely punish the criminals"

In early August, the Ürümqi government announced that 83 individuals had been "officially" arrested in connection with the riots.[182][183] China Daily reported in late August that over 200 people were being charged and that trials would begin by the end of August,[184][185] Although this was denied both by a provincial [183] and a local Party official,[4] Xinjiang authorities later announced that arrest warrants had been issued to 196 suspects, of which 51 had already been prosecuted. Police also requested that the procuratorate approve the arrest of a further 239 people, and detention of 825 more, China Daily said.[186] 94 "fugitives" were arrested in early December.[187]

The state first announced criminal charges against detainees in late September, when it charged 21 people with "murder, arson, robbery, and damaging property".[188] 14,000 security personnel were deployed in Ürümqi from 11 October, and the next day a Xinjiang court sentenced six men to death, and one to life imprisonment,[189] for their roles in the riots. All six men were Uyghurs, and were found guilty of murder, arson and robbery during the riots. Foreign media said the sentences appeared to be aimed at mollifying the anger of the Han majority;[190][191] the WUC denounced the verdict as "political", and said there was no desire to see justice served.[190] Human Rights Watch said that there were "serious violations of due process" at the trials of 21 defendants relating to July protests. It said the trials "did not meet minimum international standards of due process and fair trials"—specifically, it said that the trials were carried out in a single day without prior public notice, that the defendants' choice of lawyers was restricted, and that the Party had given judges instructions on how to handle the cases.[192] Xinhua, on the other hand, noted that the proceedings were conducted in both the Chinese and Uyghur languages, and that evidence had been carefully collected and verified before any decisions were made.[189]

By February 2010, the number of death sentences issued had increased to 26,[193] including at least one Han and one female Uyghur.[17][194] Nine of the individuals sentenced were executed in November.[17]

Later unrest

A caravan of white armoured personnel carriers rolling through a city street, with soldiers carrying body shields marching alongside. Several civilians are standing by on the sidewalk.
Armed police troops in Urumqi in early September 2009, after huge civilian demonstrations and protests against the syringe attacks

Starting in mid-August, there was a string of attacks in which as many as 476 individuals may have been stabbed with hypodermic needles.[195][196] Officials believed that the attacks were targeting Han civilians, and that they had been perpetrated by Uyghur separatists.[197] In response to both concern over the attacks[198] and dissatisfaction over the government's slowness in prosecuting people involved with the July riots, thousands of Hans protested in the streets.[199] On 3 September, five people died during the protests and 14 were injured, according to an official.[200][201] The next day, the Communist Party Chief of Ürümqi, Li Zhi, was removed from his post, along with the police chief, Liu Yaohua.[202]

While the city became calmer after these events, and the government made great efforts to show that life was returning to normal, an armed police presence did remain. As late as January 2010, it was reported that police patrols make the rounds five or six times a day, and are increased at night.[16]

Legislation and investigation

In late August, the central government passed a law outlining standards for deployment of armed Police during "rebellion, riots, large-scale serious criminal violence, terror attacks and other social safety incidents."[203][204] After the protests in early September, the government issued an announcement banning all "unlicensed marches, demonstrations and mass protests".[205] The provincial government also passed legislation banning the use of the internet to incite ethnic separatism.[101]

In November, the Chinese government dispatched some 400 officials to Xinjiang, including senior leaders such as State Council secretary general Ma Kai, Propaganda department head Liu Yunshan, and United Front chief Du Qinglin, to form an ad hoc "Team of Investigation and Research" on Xinjiang, ostensibly intended on studying the policy changes to be implemented in response to the violence.[206] The work of this team will be discussed and potentially formalized at a "Special Meeting on Xinjiang’s Economic Development" to be held sometime in spring 2010.[207]

Public services and internet access

It took until at least early August for public transport to be full restored in the city. According to Xinhua, 267 buses had been damaged during the rioting;[208] most were back in operation by 12 August.[209] The government paid bus companies a total of ¥5.25 million in compensation.[208] Despite the return of transportation services and the government's efforts to encourage visitors to the region, tourism fell sharply after the riots;[16] on the National Day holiday in October, Xinjiang had 25% fewer tourists than it did in 2008.[210]

Ürümqi public schools opened in September for the fall semester on schedule, but with armed police guarding them. Many schools began first-day classes by focusing on patriotism.[211]

On the other hand, internet and international telephone service in Ürümqi remained limited in the months after the riot; as late as November, most of the internet was still inaccessible to residents and international phone calls were impossible.[101] As late as December, most web content hosted outside the province was still inaccessible to all but a few journalists,[212] and residents had to travel to Dunhuang 14 hours away to use the internet uninhibited; within the city, only about 100 local sites, such as banks and regional government websites, could be accessed.[101] Both incoming and outgoing international phone calls were disallowed, so Ürümqi residents could only communicate by calling intermediaries in other cities in China who would then place the international calls.[101] The communications blackout has generated controversy even within China: Yu Xiaofeng of Zhejiang University criticised the move and many Ürümqi locals said it hurt businesses and delayed recovery, whereas David Gosset of the Euro-China forum argued that the government had the right to shut down communications for the sake of social stability; some locals claimed that getting away from the internet even improved their quality of life.[101]

In late December, the government began restoring services gradually. The websites for Xinhua and the People's Daily, two state-controlled media outlets, were made accessible on December 28, the web portals Sina.com and Sohu.com on 10 January 2010,[213] and 27 more websites on February 6.[214][215] Access to websites was only partial, though, as users could, for example, browse forums and blogs but not post on them.[214] China Daily reported that limited e-mail services were also restored in Ürümqi on 8 February, although a BBC reporter writing about approximately the same time said e-mail was not accessible yet.[216] Text messaging on cell phones was restored on 17 January, although there was a limit to how many messages a user could send daily.[217][218]

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