Exiled Uighur leader Rebiya Kadeer on Monday called on the international community to probe the deadly violence that rocked China’s Xinjiang region over the weekend, accusing Beijing of fudging the truth and playing down the death toll.
“We hope that the UN, the US and the EU will send teams to investigate what really took place in Xinjiang,” Kadeer told reporters, after Chinese state media said at least 156 people were killed and 1,080 injured in the clashes.
“We hope the White House will issue a stronger statement urging the Chinese government to show restraint and also to tell the truth of the nature of the events and what happened, and to tell the Chinese government to redress Uighur grievances,” she said.
White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said the US was “deeply concerned” about the reported deaths in Xinjiang’s capital Urumqi on Sunday and called for both sides in the remote northwestern province to “exercise restraint.”
China has blamed what it termed riots squarely on the Turkic-speaking Uighurs.
Yesterday, Chinese authorities announced the mass arrest of more than 1,400 people in connection with the protests, while at least 200 people staged fresh demos in Urumqi before foreign reporters.
Beijing has also accused Kadeer of fomenting the unrest from her exile in the US.
“These accusations are completely false,” she said. “I did not organize the protests or call on people to demonstrate. My only contact with any Uighur [is] inside East Turkestan,” she said, using the Uighur name for Xinjiang, citing a call “in recent days” to her brother in Urumqi in which she told him of announcements her daughters had seen on the Internet about plans to demonstrate on Sunday.
“I urged my brother to stay at home that day and to ask my other family members to stay at home as well, fearing that they may be subject to violence at the hands of the authorities if they ventured outside,” Kadeer said. “In no way did I call on anyone, at any time, to demonstrate within East Turkestan.”
About 40 members of Kadeer’s family are still China, including five sons, two of whom are in jail.
Kadeer said the immediate cause of Sunday’s planned protest march were attacks on Uighur workers at a toy factory in eastern China — where Uighurs are shipped against their will to serve as “cheap labor,” she said.
But the deeper cause, Kadeer added, was six decades of Chinese rule, during which the Uighurs have endured a litany of human rights abuses such as arbitrary detention, torture, discrimination, religious repression, forced abortion and removing Uighur language teaching from schools.
The Chinese government was also shipping “young Uighur women and men to eastern China, as millions of Chinese migrants are encouraged by the government to come to East Turkestan to work,” she said.
In response to the protests, the Chinese authorities sent in fully armed security forces, who were under orders to “open fire without warning shots” to brutally quash what was supposed to be a peaceful demonstration, said Kadeer.
She showed a photograph, taken from a Uighur Web site, showing a row of demonstrators in Urumqi facing off against at least six rows of security forces. Chinese officials have given no breakdown of the victims of Sunday’s violence, but Kadeer said she believes that “probably 90 percent were Uighurs.”
She also speculated that the death toll was higher than 156.
“The Chinese authorities usually downplay numbers in such tragic events,” she said.
“We were contacted by some of the people at Xinjiang University and we were told that on the day of the protest, on the 5th, nearly 400 people were killed … A lot of them were killed in front of the university by the security forces,” she said.
The Uighurs were turning to the West for help because the Muslim world has remained silent in the face of their plight, she said, blaming the silence on a highly effective Chinese propaganda campaign.
“To Muslim countries, the Chinese portray Uighurs as pro-Western, very modern Muslims, not genuine Muslims. To the West, the Chinese label Uighurs as Muslims, terrorists linked to al-Qaeda,” she said.
“The propaganda has been very effective,” she said.
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