Posted by: kenwbudd | October 21, 2009

China: 43 Uighur men have ‘disappeared’

Months after security forces seized them in the wake of ethnic riots in July, at least 43 ethnic Uighur men from far western China have disappeared, an advocacy group said in a report released on Wednesday.

The report, by Human Rights Watch, asserted that the number of vanished Uighurs was likely higher, although the group could conclusively document only 43 cases during weeks of secret investigations in the Xinjiang region of China.

At least 197 people died and another 1,600 were injured during three days of protests and rioting by thousands of Uighurs in early July in Urumqi, the capital of Xinjiang. The riots, the worst ethnic violence in recent Chinese history, led police and security forces to round up hundreds of Uighurs, mostly men, in subsequent weeks.

State-run newspapers have reported that more than 200 persons were charged with crimes in connection with the protests, and 19 Uighur men were sentenced this month — 11 to death, 3 to life in prison — for their roles in the violence. In a separate trial, one man with an ethnic Han surname received a death sentence and another was given a prison term of 10 years.

The government has insisted that those accused of violence have been treated in accordance with Chinese law, which requires authorities to give detained suspects access to lawyers and to tell suspects’ families where they have been detained and why.

The Human Rights Watch report disputes that, stating that in most cases, “the men and boys detained in the course of these sweeps and raids have been missing since the security forces took them away.”

“Their families’ attempts to inquire about the relatives at local police stations or with other law-enforcement agencies proved futile,” the report stated. “The authorities either said they had no knowledge of the arrests, or claimed the inquiry was still ongoing without admitting the fact of detention, or simply chased the families away.”

The report called the 43 cases “enforced disappearances,” saying they “are serious violations of international human-rights law” as well as Chinese law.

A request for Chinese government comment on the report, sent by fax at the government’s request, was not immediately answered.

The 48-page report involved random interviews with “many dozens” of Uighur residents of Urumqi and at least two dozen Urumqi residents who were Han, the ethnic group that makes up 90 percent of China’s population. Most of the violence in the July riots was directed at the Han who have become the more prosperous majority in what was once a Uighur-dominated city.

The report states that while almost every Uighur interviewee claimed to know a friend, relative or acquaintance who had gone missing after being detained by security forces, only a few were willing to give detailed accounts of the disappearances for fear of punishment by authorities.

The unaccounted-for detainees, all males, were as young as 14, but most were in their twenties, the report stated. Many were said to have disappeared during large-scale roundups of Uighur men conducted by security forces in Urumqi neighborhoods in the days after the riots. But others were seized in what the report called “targeted raids” in ethnic Uighur parts of the capital.

Witnesses were sometimes uncertain who had detained the suspects, but other people interviewed for the report mentioned the Chinese military, the local police and the People’s Armed Police, a national paramilitary force that often responds to natural disasters and public disturbances.

The report cited witnesses’ accounts of the detentions of 11 Uighur men, none of whom has been seen since. In one case, witnesses were quoted as saying that some 150 police officers and soldiers sealed off a street in Saimachang, a predominantly Uighur neighborhood, on July 6, the day after the protests began.

“Women and elderly were told to stand aside, and all men, 12 to 45 years old, were all lined up against the wall,” one witness was quoted as saying. “Police and the military were examining the men to see if they had any bruises or wounds. They also asked where they had been on July 5 and 6. They beat the men randomly, even the older ones — our 70 year-old neighbor was punched and kicked several times.”

The witnesses said that 17 men were taken away, including the 25-year-old husband of one of the witnesses. “She has not heard anything about her husband’s fate since then,” the report stated.

A woman in a second Uighur neighborhood, Erdaoqiao, said that three men in civilian clothes came to her home July 28. Identifying themselves as police officers, they took away her 18-year-old son for questioning, saying he would be freed in a couple of days.

“It’s been more than three weeks and I have no idea where he is and whether he is still alive,” she said. “I went to the local police station twice — they did not say whether he was there or not, but said the inquiry was still ongoing.”

Another witness said the soldiers seized her 14-year-old brother, apparently injuring his leg, after he left his Erdaoqiao home to go to his father’s shop on the morning of August 7. Family members said they tracked the boy to a local hospital, where he was treated, but he was then placed in a truck and driven away.

The boy has not been seen since, the report said. Police officers in the neighborhood told the family that he is not on their list of detained people.

Human Rights Watch said the Chinese government has not responded to an August 24 request to give an account of the deaths, arrests and detentions stemming from the Urumqi riots. The group urged Navanethem Pillay, the United Nations high commissioner for human rights, to investigate the events in Xinjiang.

The group has posted its report on its Web site, which the Chinese government blocks its citizens from accessing.

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