Sunday, September 18, 2011

Death Sentences in Xinjiang: A Perspective

The Chinese Government has reported that the courts have handed down death sentences to four men found guilty of murder, arson and running terrorist organisations following the deadly incidents in Hotan and Kashgar in July which resulted in the deaths of thirty two people of which thirteen were Uyghurs, the alleged perpetrators.

Uyghurs Abdugheni Yusup, Ablikim Hasan, Muhtar Hasan, and Memetniyaz Tursun were found guilty as charged and given the death sentence while two others, Abdulla Eli and Pulat Memet, were sentenced to 19 years in prison and a five-year suspension of their political rights for their part in the attacks.

The Incidents

The Hotan incident of July 18 in which two officials, two bystanders and eleven Uyghurs died remains a very murky affair. Chinese Officials claim that a group of Uyghur “terrorists”, in a premeditated attack, gained entry of a local police station killing a security guard and two Han women who happened to be there, before starting a fire and being confronted by armed police reinforcements. In the ensuing confrontation one policeman and eleven (1) Uyghurs supposedly died.

The Kashgar incident is a little more straight forward. On July 30, four Uyghurs attacked a group of people leaving seven dead. Three Uyghurs were ultimately killed and one was captured. Once again the Chinese announced that the attack was premeditated and carried out by a group of Uyghur “terrorists”.

The Response

Strangely the response was fairly muted. Of course international newsagencies carried the stories as did the Chinese press but a degree of confusion reigned particularly over the Hotan incident. The Chinese press seemingly not having a handle on what exactly transpired in Hotan though they were more confident in their reporting of the Kashgar incident due to it being very public.

The World Uyghur Conference issued the obligatory press releases condemning the Chinese government for labelling the incidents as being “terrorist” inspired claiming they were as a result of pent up emotion and anger over Chinese policy in the region as it concerns the Uyghur people.

Apart, from that, international Governments were deafening in their silence and Human Rights Organisations were, when they commented on the incidents at all, decidedly non demonstrative.

As an aside, one further event occurred when it was reported by several newsagencies recently that an “Uyghur Terrorist Organisation” the "Turkistan Islamic Party" had released a video claiming responsibility for both attacks. This report was, at best, very tenuous in terms of validation and verification.

An Analysis

We must in instances like these step back, put our preconceived ideas and emotions behind us and look closely at what facts are at hand. We do no one any favours by blindly taking sides, be it for, or against, the Uyghurs or the Chinese Government. 

Fact one is that in the Kashgar incident innocent people died and others were injured, beyond reasonable doubt, at the hands of a group of Uyghurs. Whether these Uyghurs were “terrorists”, criminals or disaffected members of a much maligned ethnic group is neither here nor there. The fact remains that innocent people died and innocent people should not die or be injured for any purpose, cause or ideal.

Fact two, the perpertrator/s should have been and were dealt with under the existing law of the country where the crime was convicted. China's law clearly calls for a mandatory death sentence for premeditated murder. The law and punishment in this instance is clear. It meets all “Rule of Law” criteria.

Can there be mitigating factors in such a case as this one in Kashgar? The answer is no. Can we excuse or mitigate the responsibility of the perpetrator/s because they are members of a group of people that are very badly treated by the Chinese Government and assuredly have much to be aggrieved about? The answer again is no.

This incident was very public, and it undoubtedly had many impartial witnesses. It was premeditated to the extent that the perpetrators went to considerable lengths to cause the extent of deaths and injuries which occurred.The World Uyghur Congress rightly states that there has been a lack of transparency in the trial of the accused. They are right, the Chinese judiciary, controlled by the state, must open up court proceedings for any offence to the scrutiny of the public and the press. Having said that no amount of transparency would have, or should have, altered the Guilty verdict handed down.

Unfortunately, as a result of the lack of transparency, we will never know what triggered the incident. Was it premeditated to the extent of it being planned well in advance? Or, was it the result of some altercation at the scene or some ongoing dispute that spiralled out of control?

As to the punishment we may not agree with capital punishment but that is the law of the land, it is legislated for, it is transparent and is widely known to be so.

The Hotan Incident is, as I have said, far less cut and dried. The facts are murky, there are more questions than there are answers. I am not even happy with the total number involved, the tally of dead and wounded and the constitution of the victims. I am not convinced one way or the other as to the degree of premeditation or the cause of whatever really occurred.

The Chinese government once again calls it a premeditated “terrorist” attack. Where is any proof as to this contention? Was it a local issue that got out of hand triggered by some unforeseen and unknown occurrence? Premeditated or spontaneous? Are there mitigating circumstances?

In this case we have a need to know all the facts and this need arises out of something other than a general need for greater transparency of criminal proceedings, and the only way to be made privy of the facts was for the Government/Judiciary to have conducted an open and transparent trial. (This in no way lessens the need for transparency in any case including Kashgar even though the facts were more openly available and less contentious.)

A Conclusion

I have been for many years a staunch supporter of the Uyghur people. I have studied the cruelty inflicted upon them - the highest per capita execution rate in the world of any ethnic group, the excessively high incarceration rates and out of proportion prison sentences and the daily deprivation of basic human rights such as freedom of religion, speech and association.

I have studied and watched as their culture and religion is attacked. As their ancestral lands are taken over by Han Chinese and as a policy of “Hanification", be it stated or otherwise, attempts to absorb then into the great “Han Oneness”.

I am a great admirer of the people, their wonderful culture and incredible history. I do not believe there exists “Uyghur Terrorism” I do not even believe there is a genuine desire by a majority of the approximate 12 million Uyghurs for an independent Uyghur state. They just want dignity, cultural autonomy, a degree of self determination and peace to live their lives.

But having said that and for all the wonderful attributes of the majority of the Uyghur people they are, when all is said and done, just people. They are as susceptible to criminality as Australians, Americans or anyone on this earth.

Therefore, I try to look at each incident, each event on the particular facts available before I automatically lay blame upon the Chinese government, it's systems and attitudes because, if I do not, than I am no different than those I wish to critique.

Let us, to use the Chinese Government vernacular, “Crackdown” heavily on the Chinese when it is warranted but not blindly take a position without due consideration of the facts.

(1) This is a very fluid number. Some put the Uyghur death toll at 18 to 20

China Sentences Uighurs to Death for Xinjiang Attacks -