Uyghurs see bias in China's anti-terror laws By April Sain-Ley-Berry
BEIJING - China is contemplating new legislation to define terrorism more
precisely, raising fears that the government is using the so-called "war on
terror" to crack down on Uyghur separatists in the country's restive Muslim
region of Xinjiang.
Beijing has laid the blame for a string of past violent uprisings in the
Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, an arid and
impoverished area in China's far northwest, on organized terrorist groups,
claiming that China faces a serious threat from fanatical Muslims in the
Overseas Uyghur independence groups, however, argue that such allegations are
merely a justification for an increasingly tight state grip over the region.
The anti-terrorism bill is being considered by China's top legislator, the
Standing Committee of the National People's Congress (NPC), state media
reported this week. Xinhua News Agency, the state's official mouthpiece, stated
that the bill is "expected to pave the way for further crackdowns on terrorism
by defining terrorist acts and organizations".
According to the legislation, terror watch lists will be released by the
Ministry of Public Security. The ministry will also have the capacity to freeze
the assets of terrorists and terror groups.
Two previous lists of terrorists and terrorist organizations were released by
the Ministry of Public Security in 2003 and 2008, all of which were connected
to the Uyghur independence movement.
Uyghur independence groups blame outbursts of violence - such as the 2009
Uyghur riots in which at least 197 people, mostly Han Chinese, died - on
mounting economic and social frustration from a Turkic-speaking ethnic minority
group that has become disenfranchised by Han settlers moving to the area.
China, they say, must take the blame for the violent uprisings and protests
which are a byproduct of the one party state's cultural and religious
"Since 9/11, the Chinese authorities used the global war on terror as a
convenient cover to justify its brutal crackdown in East Turkestan [the name
separatists give to calls for an independent state in the region]," Alim
Seytoff, director of the Uyghur Human Rights Project (UHRP) told Inter Press
Service (IPS) in an e-mail interview.
"China is always quick to jump into conclusions with regard to any violent
incidence in East Turkestan as an act of terrorism by Uyghurs trained overseas
or sent by overseas Uyghur groups, which is always a fabrication."
China is considering new anti-terrorism legislation for two reasons, Seytoff
said. "One is to justify and step up its heavy handed repression of the Uyghur
people; second is to show the West that China is a country 'ruled by law', even
though such laws, as noble as they seem, are ignored in most cases, such as
China's constitution and China's Regional Ethnic Autonomy Laws."
Professor Li Wei, director of the Center for Counter-terrorism Studies at the
China Institute of Contemporary International Relations in Beijing, however,
welcomes the bill.
"China, like other countries, is facing a terrorism threat. [This bill] is very
important as indicates that China is continuously improving its legislation
process for anti-terrorism. It has laid a foundation for fighting against
terrorism according to law. It's very necessary. There is a large possibility
that this bill will be passed at the Standing Committee of the National
People's Congress," Li tells IPS.
"This law does not specifically point to a person or an area. It does not
matter if terrorism is found in the Xinjiang region or in other areas: as long
as it is a terrorist activity defined by law it is within our striking target.
"China is fighting against terror attacks. But Western countries blame China
for cracking down on activists under the name of 'anti-terrorism', which is
wrong," he adds.
News on the anti-terrorism bill follows reports last month by state media that
four Uyghur men are to be executed for their roles in the most recent
Han-Uyghur clashes this July that left 32 dead.
According to the state-run Xinjiang website Tianshannet.com four men were
sentenced to death, and another two to 19 years imprisonment, for "forming and
participating in a terrorist organization, the illegal manufacture of
explosives, premeditated homicide, arson, and several other related crimes".
In the first attack on July 18, a group of Uyghurs stormed a police station in
the southern city Hotan. On a separate disturbance on July 30 and 31, Uyghurs
attacked civilians with knives and explosives in the city Kashgar. Both cases
led to fatalities.
China originally suggested that the attacks were a result of organized terror,
with the assailants trained overseas in Pakistan or elsewhere.
However, in a recent interview with The Wall Street Journal, Hou Hanmin,
spokeswoman for the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, admitted that there was
no obvious evidence of links to Pakistan or other international terrorist
centers. "These people are local, and the weapons they used are homemade. We
can't be certain there were any ties with the outside."
"We cannot deny that there are violent incidents in Xinjiang: it's about where
we think that violence comes from," Nick Holdstock, author of The Tree That
Bleeds: A Uighur town on the edge, an investigation into the imposition
of martial law following the 1997 protests in the border town Yining, tells
"We often get the government talking about the East Turkestan Islamic movement
and their references to some kind of shadowy organization based in Pakistan or
elsewhere in Central Asia. But the evidence for these groups a) existing and b)
been responsible is patchy to say the least."