A leading Uighur activist on Monday urged the Obama administration to more strongly condemn what she called China’s continuing crackdown on ethnic minority Muslim Uighurs.
Rebiya Kadeer, an outspoken critic of China and the head of an exiled Uighur association, told reporters that Beijing will determine that it can act with impunity unless governments do not speak out against China’s “international media blitz” aimed at demonizing her and the Uighurs.
China says Kadeer, who lives in Washington, DC, was behind the bloody riots that erupted earlier this month in western China, something she denies.
Kadeer, speaking through an interpreter, said she hopes the United States will not remain “silent and indifferent” to the Uighurs’ plight and warned of the executions of those detained following the riots.
Kadeer also called for an investigation into the violence and crackdown, saying China is still “hunting down” Uighurs.
Unrest in western China’s Xinjiang province began July 5 when a peaceful protest by Uighurs in the city of Urumqi turned violent after police intervened. Uighurs went on a rampage in the city. They smashed windows, burned cars and beat Han Chinese, the nation’s dominant ethnic group. Two days after the first rioting, vigilante groups of ethnic Han took to the streets and attacked Uighurs.
The Chinese Embassy in Washington released a statement during the violence that said Kadeer and her supporters were trying “to clear themselves of their evil acts, vilify the image of the Chinese government and mislead the American public.”
Uighurs say the riots were triggered by the late June deaths of Uighur factory workers during a brawl in a southern Chinese city. State-run media have said two workers died, but many Uighurs believe more were killed.
Uighurs have complained about an influx of Han Chinese and government restrictions on their Muslim religion. They accuse the Han of discrimination and the Communist Party of trying to erase their language and culture. Han Chinese, many of whom were encouraged to emigrate to the region by the government, believe the Uighurs should be grateful for Xinjiang’s rapid economic development.
State Department spokesman Ian Kelly said last week that the United States wanted “China to handle the situation as they go forward in a transparent manner.”
“As they work to restore order, we believe that it’s important that they respect the legal rights of all Chinese citizens,” Kelly said.