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CHINA: War on Terror or War on Uyghur Muslims?


At a time the whole world was preoccupied with the news of Sadam's capture, China announced 4 Uyghur organizations and 11 Uyghurs abroad as "terrorists" on December 15 and called for international assistance for their arrest and extradition. The announcement also came at a time the Uyghur communities around world were appealing to US government not to send the Uyghur detainees at Guantanamo Bay to China. To fully understand what this is really about, we have look back where it is coming from.

China was doing all it can to hide the existence of Uyghur people, their land and their resistance to the Chinese occupation until the September 11 terrorist attacks in US. In fact, at a Chinese Communist Party Political Bureau Standing Committee meeting presided by the Chinese president Jiang Zemin on March 19, 1996, Jiang Zemin instructed party officials to "do whatever it takes to prevent the East Turkistan problem from being internationalized." Proceedings of that meeting were published among the party inner circles as the Chinese Communist Party Central Committee Document (1996) No 7. China had very good reason to be sensitive about the East Turkistan issue. It knew very well that it is a Chinese occupied land belongs to a people who are not Chinese and have nothing in common with the Chinese people, which serves as a living proof against the Chinese allegations that "they have been part of China since the ancient times," and that what it had been doing to destroy the Uyghurs as a distinctive people was against the international norms.

However, China is a quick learner. As its economy grew rapidly, it has quickly spotted the weakness of capitalism and realized the power of money in international politics. It learned that it could buy influence or cooperation at international arenas and that it could bribe or coerce its poor neighbors to get its way. Chinese government relies on force, terror, deception, lies and manipulation to enforce its domestic rule. Now with its newfound economic strength, which brought more political influence at UN and the other world forums, China is able to project these skills beyond its borders.

First, China used its might to squeeze the Central Asian countries and Pakistan to gain cooperation in its quest to destroy the Uyghur voices in those countries. Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Pakistan and, most recently, Nepal governments forcefully returned a number of Uyghur political dissidents to China where they were executed swiftly without proper trials. On February 11, 1999, Kazakhstan deported 3 Uyghurs, Hemit Memet, Kasim Mekhpir and Ilyas Zordun to China against strong protests from Amnesty International and other prominent human rights organizations. All three were sentenced to death and executed swiftly for having taken part in the February 1997 Ghulja demonstration. In 1998, Pakistan allegedly deported 13 Uyghurs who were studying at religious schools in Pakistan to China. They were all allegedly executed upon arrival in China. In 2002, Pakistan forcefully returned three Uyghur asylum seekers, Ablitip Abdul Kadir, Elham Tohtam and Enver Tohti to China. In 2003, Pakistan forcefully returned two Uyghur asylum seekers, Abdulwahab Tohti and Muhammed Tohti Metrozi, to China. Muhammed Tohti Metrozi was recognised as a refugee by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in December 2002. Their whereabouts is unknown. In 2001, an India based website,, reported that a Pakistan intelligence agent named Mohammed Azizuddin, who was captured by Indian authorities, disclosed that 19 Uyghur were reportedly gunned down by the Pakistan Army at the behest of Chinese authorities. In December 2000, Pakistan authorities closed down two Uyghur community centers, which provided temporary shelters for Uyghur immigrants and travelers for decades. Pakistan government also expelled the Uyghurs from religious schools, attending to which is regarded as a crime punishable with long time imprisonment and even death by the Chinese government, forcing them to cross over into Afghanistan. Most Uyghurs who ended up among the Taliban came from Pakistan. Just two months ago, a Uighur activist, Shaheer Ali, who was forcibly returned to China from Nepal last year, had been executed. He had been recognized as a refugee by the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in Nepal. He left behind a tape in which described the gruesome tortures he suffered in Chinese prison.

Several prominent Uyghur leaders were murdered in Central Asia in the past 6 years. In 1997, Hashir Wahidi, Chairman of the Kazakhstan based “Uyghuristan Liberation Organization," was murdered at his home; On March 28th, 2000, Nighmet Bosaqov, President of the Kyrgyzstan based Uyghur Ittipaq (Union) Society, was shot to death in front of his home; In July 2001, Ms. Dilbirim Samsqova, Chairwoman of the Almaty, Kazakhstan Based Charity Organization, Nuzugum Foundation, was murdered and her body was mutilated. None of the murder cases is solved yet. But the Uyghur communities in Central Asia widely believe that China was behind those politically motivated murders. There was no reason for others to target Uyghur leaders.

In addition to targeting Uyghur leaders, China also has targeted Uyghur businesses in Central Asia, which is suspected by China as the financial source of Uyghur organizations. For example, a wholesale market in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan, that was run by Uyghur businessmen was set on fire and burned to ashes, causing millions of dollars in losses to the Uyghurs on February 12th, 2002, one day after Hasan Mehsum, the leader of East Turkistan Islamic Movement, claimed in his interview with the Washington DC based Radio Free Asia that they finance their operation by businesses run by themselves and donations from other Uyghurs.

Emboldened by its success in Central Asia where the majority of the population shares the same ethnic, linguistic, religious and cultural heritage with Uyghur people, the Chinese government extended its anti-Uyghur campaign to Turkey, another country that shares similar heritage with Uyghurs and home for several thousand Uyghurs who settled there after leaving their homeland to escape Chinese persecution. China and Turkey signed a cooperation agreement in 2000. Turkey had agreed to crackdown on Uyghur separatist groups, meanwhile China agreed to increase the amount of imports from Turkey by 10-fold. Since then the Uyghurs in Turkey has been effectively silenced, leaving the small and new Uyghur communities in North America and Western Europe as the only voice of the 10 million Uyghur people.

Silencing the Uyghurs in its neighborhood did not stop China's worst fear from being materialized. The East Turkistan problem gained increasing international visibility thank to the small Uyghur community in the West. Unlike China's poor neighbors, the countries in the West could not be easily intimidated or bribed. But, after the September 11 tragedy China saw a hard to come by opportunity to take the East Turkistan problem out of its closet under the guise of fighting "international terrorism." The Chinese government moved swiftly to take advantage of a war on terror to legitimize its oppression of Muslim Uyghurs who are struggling to maintain their ethnic and cultural identity. On September 29, merely two weeks after the tragedy, detailed the violence incidents happened in East Turkistan in 12 years between 1990 - 2001. They probably broke their nails to dig out every bit of dirt they could find. What they found is a bus explosion in Urumqi on 5 February 1991, which was condemned by Uyghurs and other peoples alike, two cases of unspecified bombings in 1993, a peasant uprising in Baren Township in April 1990, a prison rebellion in Shayar county in 1996 and a peaceful demonstration in Ghulja in February 1997, which turned into a violent confrontation after the police used brutal force against the demonstrators. While any violence is too much, it pales in comparison to the violence committed against Uyghurs by the Chinese government. It is worth noticing that even though all the 4 organizations they named this time were mentioned among the 8 organizations that it accused of "openly advocating violence in their political platforms," none of the "terrorist acts" was attributed to them. China executed the alleged perpetrators of every incident it cited. China blamed 162 deaths in 12 years to violence committed by various Uyghur groups and individuals. But China executed thousands of Uyghurs in connection with those acts. Just for the February 5 Ghulja demonstrations alone, China executed several hundred Uyghurs. Amnesty International detailed 210 death sentences given out between 1997 and 1999, most of them for people who took part in the Ghulja demonstration.

Last year China succeeded in persuading the United States and UN to blacklist a little known Uyghur group, East Turkistan Islamic Movement, as an international terrorist organization by falsely blaming all the above mentioned 162 deaths to this group. It seems to be true that members of this group had military training in Afghanistan, but judging from the previous Chinese reports it was not responsible for the 162 deaths. Another piece of evidence cited for the listing was a report that two ETIM members were deported to China from Kyrgyzstan in May 2002 for plotting to attack the US Embassy in Kyrgyzstan as well as other US interests abroad. But, it was nothing more than a ploy staged by the Chinese agents with the cooperation of Kyrgyz authorities. Hasan Mehsum, the leader of the East Turkistan Islamic Movement, clearly stated in his February 2002 interview with Radio Free Asia that the sole goal of his organization is to free his homeland from the Chinese occupiers and that he has no hostility to US. The true crime of this organization seems to be its intention to overthrow the Chinese rule in East Turkistan through armed rebellion.

The blacklisting of the East Turkistan Islamic Movement was a huge bonus for China which wants to portray the peaceful resistance of Uyghur people as terrorism but it was a great disappointment for Uyghurs who saw president Bush's earlier promise that "US does not and will not condone governments using counter-terrorism as an excuse to silence peaceful expressions of political or religious views" fading away. It was never about just one organization, it was about how China wants to justify its oppression of Uyghurs Muslims and manipulate the world opinion using the war on terror as a cover. It meant China can get away with lies and deception even in the free world while the root causes of the Uyghur resistance-- hopelessness, despair, a sense of victimization and injustice inflicted on them by a government which tramples on their dignity and rights, and made clear its intention to destroy them--go unaddressed.

It was quite disheartening to see that the UN listing came on the first anniversary of the September 11 tragedy. Almost every article of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights that endorsed by the UN is being violated in East Turkistan. UN was aware of the gross violations of human rights in East Turkistan, including torture, arbitrary detention and rampage executions, assault on religious and cultural freedoms, and employment discrimination to name just a few, and the fact that the Chinese authorities was using the 11 September 2001 attacks in the USA to justify further repression of Uyghurs. Both US and UN were aware that thousands of Uyghur political prisoners, including prisoners of conscience such as Tohti Tunyaz, an ethnic Uyghur who is serving an 11-year sentence for his research into Uighur history, and Rebiya Kadeer, a prominent Uyghur businesswoman who is serving an 8-year sentence for sending newspaper clips to his husband in US, remained in prison. For any caring eye it is clear who is terrorizing whom. But, UN has never addressed these issues in any meaningful way. However, it eagerly accommodated China's request to equate Uyghur people's struggle to protect their rights and dignity with the savage acts of September 11 by symbolically listing a Uyghur group as terrorist group on the anniversary of that murderous act. The acts of the September 11 were pure evil no matter how you look at it. Those 3000 victims, who included a young Uyghur girl, did nothing to deserve to die like that. While I do not condone violence, especially in East Turkistan where the final victims always end up to be the Uyghurs no matter how it starts, I do not think it is appropriate to compare a group who intended to use arm to liberate their occupied homeland with the evil act of September 11. Putting the heinous crimes of the September 11 with equal footing with Uyghur people's national struggle for survival is simply desecrating to the memory of those died in the September 11 attacks. The entire world knows that it was an attack on freedom and liberty, the very things the Uyghur people are fighting for and the Chinese government is fighting against.

As expected, China took full advantage of the US and UN listing of East Turkistan Islamic Movement to intensify crack down on Uyghurs at home. But, it was not enough for China. It wants to silence the small Uyghur communities in exile completely. First, it launched a well-coordinated attack on our main weapon, the Internet websites and emails, with computer viruses. It caused a lot of headache for us but it could not stop us. Emboldened by its "victory" of slandering (Uyghurs) and blackmailing (the US and UN), China shamelessly slandered the Uyghur organizations and individuals engaged in lawful activities in democratic countries. One statement in the Chinese press release should ring alarm bell for all Uyghur activists. It said the 4 organizations and 11 individuals are the first group of "terrorists" confirmed so far. That means the second, third and fourth groups are coming, and that could be any Uyghur who complain about China's actions in East Turkistan. It is clear that China is determined to silence the Uyghur voices once for all while it still has an Ace left in its hole: The North Korea Problem.

Those people who think China will become a democracy through economic development should learn a lesson from our plights. The Chinese government is an immoral dictatorship that is run by psychopath nationalists who measure everything in terms of power when it comes to the others, the none-Chinese peoples such as Uyghurs, Tibetans and everyone else, and abuses its might to maintain its unjust oppressive policy rather than using it constructively for peace and the benefit of people. A rising China may be the Uyghur's problem today, but a strong China could be everybody's problem tomorrow. It is time for the free world to wake up and take a closer look how China abuses its power to trample on the rights and human dignity of weaker peoples and stop China from high-jacking the war on terror to terrorize Uyghurs, if not for Uyghurs, for the memory of the September 11 terrorist attack victims. We, the small new Uyghur community in the West, have become vocal about the human rights violations in our homeland taking tremendous personal risk because we believed the world cares about the truth and justice. We need to see the world tell China the meaning of "terrorism."

If China is really serious about finding the truth about the violence in East Turkistan, it should allow UN monitors to carry out an unrestricted impartial investigation in East Turkistan.

Turdi Ghoja

New Jersey, US

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