China vowed to strike with an “iron fist” at separatist forces in its Xinjiang region, as it rolled out a heavy security presence for the third anniversary yesterday of deadly ethnic riots in July 2009.
The pledge to crack down on “separatism, religious extremism and terrorism” came as Amnesty International condemned China for what it said was repression against ethnic Uighurs in Xinjiang who had spoken out against rights abuses.
Amnesty, in a report issued late on Wednesday, said it had new testimony that Beijing continues to “intimidate” families seeking missing relatives that have revealed human rights abuses during and after the 2009 clashes.
The group cited Patigul Eli, the mother of one of the Uighurs who disappeared after the riots, as saying she had met at least 30 other families in front of police and government buildings in Urumqi trying to get information from the authorities about missing relatives.
The London-based rights watchdog said dozens of Uighur families have come out publicly with stories of family members disappeared since July 2009, though all fear retribution.
“The general trend toward repression that we see all over China is particularly pronounced in Xinjiang,” Amnesty’s Asia-Pacific director, Catherine Baber, said in the statement.
Chinese Communist Party (CCP) regional chief Zhang Chunxian (張春賢) visited riot police in the Xinjiang capital of Urumqi on Wednesday ahead of the sensitive anniversary date and told them they must crush government opponents.
“Remain on high alert for every kind of hostile force and strike with an iron fist at the forces of separatism, religious extremism and terrorism,” Zhang said, according to a statement on the regional government’s Web site.
Xinjiang is home to around 9 million Uighurs, a Turkic-speaking, largely Muslim ethnic minority. It is strategically vital to China as it accounts for one-sixth of China’s land mass and holds oil, gas and coal deposits and borders Afghanistan, Pakistan, India and Central Asia.
Many Uighurs accuse China’s rulers of religious and political persecution, while complaining that their homeland is being inundated by the country’s dominant Han ethnic group.
In some of the worst ethnic violence to hit China in decades, Uighurs began attacking Han in Urumqi on July 5, 2009, triggering days of clashes in which 200 people from both sides died, according to the government.
In the aftermath, police rounded up and jailed scores of participants, then executed at least nine people accused of instigating the riots.
China denies claims of repression, saying it has brought badly needed modernization and economic development to the landlocked region. The Chinese government has made efforts to boost development in Xinjiang by providing greater job opportunities, especially for Uighurs, to try and address some of the root causes of the violence.
The Germany-based World Uyghur Congress said it would hold protests outside Chinese missions in 14 countries yesterday.