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Uighurs' revolt: Iran minus the technology [UPDATED]*

Chinafree speechfreedomIranprotestTibetUighur protestUighursUyghurs

China, free speech, freedom, Iran, protest, Tibet, Uighur protest, Uighurs, UyghursThe Uighurs, a minority Muslim group in China's westernmost province of Xinjiang, are embroiled in a violent protest. So far, 156 protesters on both sides have died  and more than 1,000 have been injured.

Coming on the heels of the recent Iran election protests, the events in Xinjiang draw a comparison between the two, particularly in the two groups' efforts to use media and their governments' subsequent technological crackdown.

This protest was provoked by the killing of two Uighurs by a mob of Chinese co-workers in a toy factory, fueled by rumors that the two men sexually harassed Han Chinese women. The fight occurred against a backdrop of heightened tensions, as the Uighurs have been pushed out of their province by a growing population of Han Chinese. Hans once made up only 5 percent of Xinjiang's population -- they now represent 40 percent of the region's populous.

The Chinese government is well known for its strict censorship of the media. It happened last year in Tibet during the protests and riots there that, according to the Central Tibetan Administration, killed 220 people just months before the Beijing Olympics. The Chinese people could get little news from Tibet, or at least few reports that included the Tibetans' perspective. And the same has happened now. The government has cut off Internet and domestic cellphone connections to the city of Urumqi, so the Twitters or Facebook statuses from Uighurs and Hans telling of the violence hit firewalls instead of newsstands.

So far, we know that 156 people have died in the continued fighting, both Han Chinese and Uighurs. But the international community and correspondents have been able to gather little more, relying instead on the Chinese state media and groups in the West like the World Uygher Congress, which is based in Germany and has come out against what it calls "China's brutal crackdown of a peaceful protest in Urumchi." In Monday's L.A. Times story, the authors commented that the streets of the regional capital remained quiet and few Uighurs were willing to talk to the press. Many reporters are able to get Internet and phone service through satellite technology, said Sophie Richardson of Human Rights Watch. 

On the other side, the Chinese government has reported that the Uighurs are solely to blame for the violence and are the ones sparking ethnic tensions that the Chinese military is only trying to quell. Richardson, the Asia advocacy director at Human Rights Watch, said the trickle of information coming out of the region has been to little to tell who is to blame for what, which group constitutes the most deaths and who started the violence. 

"We sure as hell don't know who started it," Richardson said. "Uighurs say it started as a peaceful demonstration that turned violent, but it's not clear how or why. They say security forces started firing, the Chinese government says they were provoked and had to uphold public order."

Similar to Iran, which not only cut off media access to citizens and journalists but also blamed the protests on the West, China is placing much of the root cause of the Uighur protest on Uighurs living in the United States, as well as on Rebiya Kadeer, the Uighur democracy leader based in Munich, though she claims she had nothing to do with the revolt. Richardson backed up Kadeer, saying there is no clear evidence that outsiders had anything to do with the protests.

Despite the censorship in both situations, Iranians were better equipped with more technology and a better knowledge of how to use it than are the Uighurs, who do not enjoy the benefits of living in a cosmopolitan capital with immediate computer access or satellite technology. Protesters in Iran were able to widely disperse incredible amounts of information, and doing so caught the world's attention. With China's total shutdown of modern communication devices in Xinjiang province, the reports are slower and the media buzz surrounding this situation is quieter, even though this is one of the deadliest riots since Tiananmen Square in 1989.

Both sides of this ethnic conflict are getting hurt, it seems by the hands of protesters and soldiers alike. Though Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and Uyghur Human Rights Project have all documented the decline in human rights for Uighurs in China since the communist takeover 60 years ago this year, Hans are being targeted too in this conflict. Above the ground, however, lies the ever-vigilant Chinese government that is effectively cutting off the right to free speech and communication with the outside world to both Uighurs and Hans -- and no one is benefiting from the blackout.

*This post has been updated from a previous version.

--Catherine Lyons

Photo: Young Uighur Turks living in Turkey wave their flags as they protest against China after riots and street battles killed at least 140 people in China's western Xinjiang province and injured over 800 others in the deadliest ethnic unrest to hit the region in decades, in Istanbul, Turkey, Monday, July 6, 2009. Credit: AP Photo / Ibrahim Usta


Comments () | Archives (11)

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This is a real dilemma for the US. On one hand, we have a violent Muslim separationist group (as well as being a terrorist group linked to Al-Qaeda. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/East_Turkestan_Islamic_Movement) trying to promote jihad, on the other hand, we have China, with whom the US has a very complicated love-hate relationship.

This incidence will certainly give the US an opportunity to re-evaluate its relationship with and attitude towards China. The US main-stream media and most of the US population are still carry the ancient cold war era mentality towards China, Russia and anything remotely related to communism. With all the violence in the Middle East as well as the economic crisis and energy problem, I hope the US would realize that China has been nothing but a friendly ally to America, and that terrorism, global warming and energy shortage is the America's real enemies.

Qazaq from Qazaqstan

Dear Uighur brothers,

I feel a strong anxiety about what happened last sunday and has been hapenning in Xinjiang for a long time. I pray that one day Eastern Turkestan will be independent. I don't know how can I show my support, but I just want to say that you're not alone, in most difficult times we will support by all means.

Our government might be kissing Chinese asses, but our people will be on your side.

Insha'allah, you will be free one day!


I thought it was pretty well established that the Uighur workers raped two Han women. This was vigilante justice by the locals, which would have been easily preventable if the Chinese police had not let the two men go to avoid "ethnic tension." This is the Chinese govt's fault no doubt. Their passivity only serves to stoke anger on both sides.

And Qazaq, Xinjiang will be independent when Russia collapses into oblivion. It plays a huge role in China's military strategy as a buffer zone. Also, culturally, China is concerned with "losing face" (an idiotic and archaic concept) if it loses Xinjiang. Unless something major shifts, "Xinjiang independece" is nothing but a pipe dream (this goes for Tibet as well). In the future, the Han population will be so integrated within Xinjiang that this conflict will probably cease to exist.


BTW, you make it sound that most of the dead were Uighurs, however it is fact that it was the "protesters" who dicriminately attack Han civilians and killed many of them. You should get the bias out of your system.


Irrespective of differences of access to communication, the only reason that Iranian riots that saw the death of a score of protesters and a handful of urban militia are seen on every news outlet in the world and the wanton massacres in Uiguristan go uncovered is simple; the riots in Iran were engineered and supported by outsiders whereas the riots in China were spontaneous.

Where is Obama's voice? Why is he not calling upon Beijing to show restraint? Where is the round the clock CNN coverage? Ask yourself this question with all due honesty, why does the media sleep when hundreds are massacred by a major trade partner yet howl as if the world has ended when a single girl gets caught in crossfire? Don't hide behind shallow excuses such as this article attempts to make; have the intellectual integrity to be disgusted with yourselves.


Well at least the Muslims are holding true to their religion. Slowly and methodically subduing the world. Wake up everyone its not communist against democracy, poor against rich.!!! It is and has always been...Muslims against the World.... All one need do is study the religions of this world and it becomes obvious as to what the agenda is...One religion subdues the earth with love,peace,understanding,hope and faith while the other by deceit,lies,ethnic cleansing...


The Han Chinese have been notorious imperials for millennia. That is how the country was built, gradual assimilation of border areas, which are then completely overwhelmed demographically. This can be seen in Tibet, certainly, as well as Western China today. The question is whether or not they will get away with it yet again.

Mitchell Young

Completely different scenarios. The Iran situation is internal, Iranians battling Iranians. The Xinjiang situation is the resistance of a group of people to being demographically swamped by another culturally and even physically different people. It's yet another example of large scale migration causing problems.

Alex A , Los Angeles

Shame on yesterday's peace loving officials!(liers) from Obama to UN head,EU, Islamic countries,jounalist, news media,CNN,BBC,ABC,FOX,NBC and etc. Who cares! there is no oil, no Israel ,no members' of our church. The root cause of the violenc is China's occuopation of The Eastren Turkistan after Worl War II (60years ago) and the policy of wiping out the Igur poeple by moving Hon people from mainland China into Igur-Turks homeland. US silence is unfair and also understanable, she can not do much, because China has Veto Power and US depened economically. The applied to Russia in Chechnia war. Persians always cry for muslems of Lebenon and Hamas, Hizbollah, be wise and look out for Iran's reaction, they have no respect for human. China and Russia back Iran burtal regime.

Edmund Burke

The PRC must reconsider its stance and policy toward the Uighur people. They have realized a sense of self conscious and nationalism which will undermine any sense of cohesion between the PRC and the Uighurs. Indeed without pragmatic reforms, the PRC will lose Xinjiang and create a new den for radical Islamic terrorists.

General Hameed Gul of the ISI

Briefly, all the blogs and opinions on esp western websites and papers would be stoking flames from both the sides.

For a long times they have been trying to create a SPLIT between China and Islamic worlds.

911 false flag is winding up and its back to china, Hainan Island and P2 that was sent back to the USA in crates.

Highly trained in creating antagonism and division, CIA/MOSSAD neocon psychologists write the websites and comments under aliases of chinese and muslims or otherwise to create hate and anger.



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