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Security is expected to be further tightened across the Xinjiang this week as the restive region marks the fifth anniversary of the July 5th ethnic riots that left nearly 200 dead and many more injured in 2009.
Beijing is in the middle of “anti-terror crackdown” in Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR) and courts have recently arrested, sentenced and executed a number of suspects accused of carrying out “separatist movement” and “religious extremism in the region.
Exiled Uyghur groups fear the crackdown will only be intensified in the coming weeks – something, they say, began in 2009.
“The authorities intensified already tight restrictions on the freedom of association and assembly following the July 2009 events, also they have exacted persecutory measures against the Uyghur people,” Dolkun Isa, from the Germany-based World Uyghur Congress, told HT over email.
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In July, 2009, a demonstration by a group of Uyghur in Urumqi – protesting the killing of two Uyghur men in a south China factory – turned violent, triggering clashes between them, members of the majority Han community and security personnel. By the time the clashes were controlled at least 197 people were dead and many injured. Rights groups claimed dozens went missing.
Isa said the authorities blamed overseas Uyghur groups for fomenting separatism but failed to admit the role of government policies for increasing unrest in the region.
“These policies included restrictions on freedom of expression, association and assembly; restrictions on religious and other cultural practices; and economic policies that discriminate against Uyghurs and encourage Han migration to the region,” Isa said.
“Human Rights Watch and Amnesty international have made many inquiries to the Chinese authorities to allow an independent investigation of the 5th July events, but until today, the Chinese government has failed and refused to provide any information,” Isa, who lives in exile in Germany, said.
The government, however, has maintained that its policies are pro-Uyghur and that religious extremism is threatening the stability of the vast and remote region that borders a number of countries.
“Religious extremism, the primary motivator of acts of terrorism worldwide, has prompted a spate of terrorist attacks inside and out of Xinjiang over the past five years,” Xinhua, the official news agency, said in a commentary on Friday.
The commentary said the argument that Beijing’s policies were systematically targeting and eliminating the unique Uyghur culture was “fallacious”.
“China's uphill battle against terrorism in Xinjiang is a part of the world's counter-terrorism war. To win the battle is to protect the Uyghur culture,” the commentary said.