Dozens of China's Uighurs still missing - report


DOZENS OF Uighurs, including children, have disappeared since ethnic riots in July in far-west China’s Xinjiang province, after they were seized by security forces who refuse to tell their families anything about their fate.

Security forces swept through the Xinjiang capital, Urumqi, in the days after the riots on July 5th, in which nearly 300 people were killed. Forty-three men and teenagers now missing were among hundreds rounded up during the crackdown.

China’s worst violence in decades began after protests by Muslim Uighurs escalated into bloody assaults on mostly Han Chinese residents, who are the majority ethnic group in China, and in Urumqi.

The families of the missing have been unable to find out where they are or why they are being held, the rights group Human Rights Watch said in a report called We Are Afraid to Even Look for Them: Enforced Disappearances in the Wake of Xinjiang’s Protests.

“The cases we documented are likely just the tip of the iceberg,” said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch. Most of those taken away were young Uighur men in their 20s. The youngest are reported to have been 12 and 14.

“The Chinese government says it respects the rule of law, but nothing could undermine this claim more than taking people from their homes or off the street and ‘disappearing’ them – leaving their families unsure whether they are dead or alive,” Mr Adams said.

The group gave first-hand accounts of more than 40 cases. Out of fear of retaliation, few witnesses or family members were willing to come forward with their stories, the report said.

The report quoted witness accounts of police bursting into houses and offices and seizing men without providing warrants or explanations. Men were checked for injuries which might suggest they took part in the riots, it said.

“They beat the men randomly, even the older ones – our 70-year-old neighbour was punched and kicked several times. We couldn’t do anything to stop it – they weren’t listening to us,” it quoted one witness as saying.

Uighurs who went to the police to ask about relatives were turned away or told there was no information, the report said.

China says that Xinjiang is an inviolable part of its territory and it has invested billions of dollars in the oil-rich region. A simmering militant separatist campaign has occasionally boiled over into violence in the past 20 years, and Beijing accuses the militants of terrorism. Many Uighurs say Xinjiang is their homeland and see the influx of Han Chinese settlers as a form of colonisation.

While China often detains people and refuses access to family and lawyers, these cases are different as there has been no acknowledgement that someone is being held.

The first trials of detainees began earlier this month, and nine people have been sentenced to death for their involvement in the riots.