Chinese government confusion over trials in East Turkestan

The Uyghur American Association (UAA) believes that the Chinese government’s contradictory statements on the details of trials for Uyghurs detained in the wake of unrest in Urumchi on July 5, 2009 indicate an absence of transparency surrounding criminal and judicial procedures, as well as a process driven by political motivations.

The state-controlled China Daily indicated in a report issued on August 24, 2009 that trials of more than 200 people detained over the unrest in East Turkestan’s regional capital of Urumchi would begin this week. The report, later withdrawn from the China Daily’s website (see below for the full text of the report), contained a number of specifics on aspects of the cases; however, in a statement, Li Hua, an official from the regional government’s press office, said[i] that no dates have been arranged for the trials. Mr. Li added that the number of trials is set at 83 and not at 200 as stated by the China Daily. UAA asserts that these contradictions only increase the skepticism with which these trials should be viewed by the international community.

Many of the details on the criminal and judicial procedures in the cases as reported by the China Daily are contested in reports emerging from East Turkestan, adding to grave doubts regarding the divergent official accounts of detentions and impending trials.

The China Daily report stated that police have detained 718 people in connection with the unrest and that police have gathered 3,318 items of evidence to be used at the trials, which will be held at Urumchi Intermediate People’s Court. The figure of 718 detentions has been contradicted in both official Chinese sources and western media sources. Firstly, in an August 2, 2009 report[ii] from the New York Times, citing the official Xinhua News Agency, which states that Chinese authorities have publicly admitted over 2,000 people have been detained, and secondly, in a July 19, 2009 Financial Times report[iii], which details the detention of over 4,000 Uyghurs. UAA has learned via unconfirmed reports from Uyghurs who have recently managed to leave East Turkestan that the number of Uyghur detentions may be higher than the number suggested by the Financial Times. These reports remain unconfirmed due to the information blackout, which remains in place in East Turkestan, affecting internet and wireless communications.

Further unconfirmed information received by UAA also indicates that Uyghur detainees have received severe beatings at the hands of Chinese penal authorities, which have in some cases resulted in deaths[iv]. The information source added that there were instances of Uyghur detainees who had received beatings so severe while in detention that after their release they had died as a result of their injuries. Family members of Uyghur detainees have not been able to confirm if their relatives are still alive as Chinese authorities, in contravention of Chinese law, are not disclosing the location of Uyghurs in detention. UAA believes that the beatings point to a well-documented Chinese government use of torture to extract confessions and that the 3,318 items of evidence gathered by Chinese police to support any confessions must be brought into question.

UAA is also concerned that the outcome of these trials have been determined before their commencement, and serve as a Chinese government tool to intimidate Uyghurs and eliminate peaceful Uyghur dissent. UAA contends that Chinese Communist Party politicians and not the legal system have laid the groundwork for the outcome of these trials through their public comments on the severity with which punishment should be dispensed. At a news conference[v] on July 8, 2009, Urumchi Communist Party Secretary Li Zhi indicated the planned use of capital punishment against those convicted of the most serious offenses by stating “[t]o those who have committed crimes with cruel means, we will execute them.”

In addition, the assignment of lawyers by Chinese authorities to the accused as reported by the China Daily indicates that death sentences may have been determined before any trial begins. A 2006 study conducted by the Great Britain China Center, the Chinese Academy for Social Sciences and the Max Planck Institute for Foreign and International Criminal Law found that “[t]he defence council is assigned to a case rather late in criminal proceedings. In general, assignment takes place after the defendant has confessed and after investigation has been finalized. Capital cases are processed rapidly through the criminal justice system, leaving not much room for unfolding effective criminal defence. Death penalty proceedings are carried out at a rapid pace.”[vi]

In a statement, Uyghur democracy leader, Ms. Rebiya Kadeer, said: “The Chinese government contradictions over the trials of Uyghurs detained in the Urumchi unrest are cause for grave concern. When these trials go ahead they will neither be open, nor fair. The procedures in these cases have been flawed from the very beginning and contravene China’s own laws. The only reports that have emerged on the criminal and judicial process for detainees have come from Chinese government sources, which do not mention the beating, sometimes to death, of Uyghurs while in custody – a routine practice well-documented by human rights groups such as Amnesty International.”
UAA has also learned from unconfirmed reports that executions of Uyghurs have already taken place. According to the information source, summary trials and executions of Uyghur ‘masterminds’ of the events in Urumchi were conducted by Chinese authorities in swift retribution for the unrest. The trials and executions took place on July 8 and 9, 2009, two days after the unrest began, when residents of Urumchi were compelled to remain inside their homes by Chinese authorities.
UAA urges the international media to question reports produced by the official Chinese media as the content is often politically motivated and cannot be verified due to the Chinese government monopoly of information and the communications blackout in East Turkestan.

UAA cautions the international community, especially the United States, the United Nations, the European Union and Muslim nations, to intercede in the continuing instability in East Turkestan exacerbated by the Chinese authorities’ non-transparent judicial procedures. UAA emphasizes the gravity of the East Turkestan issue due to the absence of Chinese government self-examination as to the root causes of the Urumchi unrest among Uyghurs. UAA also urges the international community to seek an assurance from the Chinese government that it cease its arrest, torture and killing of Uyghur people on political grounds. UAA recommends that the Chinese government seek negotiations with the World Uyghur Congress to address Uyghur grievances in an open, fair and equitable manner.

200 to face trial for day of carnage
China Daily

URUMQI: More than 200 suspects have been formally arrested to face prosecution on charges of being involved in the deadliest riot in Xinjiang in 50 years, China Daily learned Sunday.
The arrests pave the way for the trials, which are expected to start this week in the capital of the Xinjiang Uygur autonomous region in Northwest China.

Earlier this month, police said 83 people had been formally arrested.

The charges include vandalizing public property, organizing crowds to cause bodily harm to others, intentionally causing bodily harm to others, robbery, murder, arson, vandalizing public transport, and organizing crowds to disrupt public order and traffic.

An Urumqi procuratorate official, who declined to be identified, told China Daily that most of the arrests were made in Urumqi and Kashgar, a southern Xinjiang city with a heavy concentration of Uygur people.

Police said 718 people had been detained for taking part in the July 5 riot, in which 197 people were killed and more than 1,600 injured.

During the riot, predominantly Uygur rioters armed with batons and bricks smashed shops and vehicles while beating passers-by, after a protest against attacks on Uygur workers at a factory in South China in June. Two days later, some Han people retaliated against the Uygurs.

Local police said last week they had gathered more than 3,000 new items of evidence to be used during the trials.

Among the 3,318 items of physical evidence collected are bricks and clubs stained with blood. They also include 91 video clips and 2,169 photographs.

As Urumqi gears up for the trials, security near Urumqi Intermediate People’s Court, the venue for the trial, and its surroundings is at the highest level, a police source said.

The source said armed police, along with security guards and bailiffs, have been conducting around-the-clock patrols in the area.

“This operation has been ongoing for more than 10 days,” the source told China Daily.

A drastic increase in security is expected in the whole city in response to an expected mass gathering of Han and Uygur people awaiting the court verdicts, the source said.

Although tension will be mounting, the source forecast little chance of new friction in the city.
“We have received no notice, but once the trial begins, we will be watchful if anything goes wrong,” said a security guard.

“I can understand why the security is so tight,” said Guo Mei, a saleswoman who works near the court.

“Many bereaved Han families will come to wait for the verdicts, and the authorities fear they may clash with any Uygur in their presence.”

Another worker at the store added: “I’d be very angry if those rioters receive light sentences or escape justice. They should be given harsh penalties for causing the loss of so many innocent lives.”

The Beijing-based Legal Daily earlier reported that several panels have already been set up in Urumqi Intermediate People’s Court in preparation for the trials.

The panels are composed of three to seven judges, the number of which must be odd. In case of differing opinions, the majority’s is adopted.

The High People’s Court of Xinjiang Uygur autonomous region has selected and trained dozens of judicial personnel for the trials to ensure great exactitude when handling the cases, according to the Legal Daily report.

More than 170 Uygur and 20 Han lawyers have been assigned to the suspects; the trials will be carried out in their native languages.

Except for the trials related to charges of splitting the State and instigating to split the State, all other trails will be public.

“For Han suspects who ‘overreacted’ to the deadly riot on July 5, when mainly Han residents died, they should be granted leniency by the judge,” said a Han shopkeeper who refused to be identified.
Mayira, a Urumqi resident, expressed hope for a fair trial for the Uygur suspects.

Another Uygur resident, Mehriban, said: “Many people were simply fooled and instigated by Rebiya Kadeer; I hope people will see the truth more clearly after the trials – the truth that we Uygur people can’t live without Han and Han can’t live without Uygurs.

“Personally, I wish people would learn to put down their guard whenever I board a bus or appear in public places; we Uygur people hope for peace and prosperity as much as any other ethnic group.”
Cui Jia contributed to the story


[i] No Trials Yet in Xinjiang Violence Case, Chinese Official Says:
[ii] China Arrests 319 People in Unrest in Xinjiang:
[iii] Xinjiang widens crackdown on Uighurs:
[iv] Uighur exile airs prison killing allegation:
[v] China Arrests 319 People in Unrest in Xinjiang:
[vi] Strengthening the Defence in Death Penalty Cases in China:

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