Dozens of minority Uighurs have “disappeared” and been “unlawfully detained” by Chinese authorities in the wake of July’s ethnic unrest in the Muslim-majority Xinjiang region, a report alleges.
Human Rights Watch, a United States-based rights group, has documented the “enforced disappearances” of 43 Uighur men and teenage boys through interviews with their family members and witnesses. The report says these men were picked up by authorities in security sweeps in the aftermath of the July riot, but are neither in official police detention nor have been charged with crimes. Their families say they have vanished without a trace.
On July 5, Uighur mobs went on the rampage in Urumqi, Xinjiang’s capital, targeting Han Chinese, China’s majority ethnic group. At least 197 people were killed and 1,600 injured in the violence, most of who were Han Chinese.
At least 825 people, mostly Uighurs, were detained following the riots, according to officials, and 108 of them have so far been charged. In a report released on Wednesday, Human Rights Watch said dozens of Uighurs who were rounded up in security sweeps conducted on July 6 and 7 in Uighur neighbourhoods were still missing.
Quoting residents and witnesses, the report said the Chinese military, paramilitary armed police and local police rounded up dozens of Uighur men, mainly in their 20s, from their homes in the days after the violence. All those with wounds or bruises or who had not been in their homes during the violence on July 5 were taken away.
But many of them were not charged with any crimes, and almost four months on, their families still have not heard from them. Police officials who were approached by family members either denied any knowledge of the arrests or chased the families away, the report said.
The report documents 43 specific cases, quoting interviews with family members and witnesses. The report says the number of “disappearances” is likely to be far higher, given that the group only had limited access to interviewees in Urumqi.
The group has called on the Chinese government to immediately account for all detainees. “China should only use official places of detention, so that everyone being held can contact family members and legal counsel,” said Brad Adams, Asia director of Human Rights Watch.
The Chinese government has said all those detained would be tried in accordance with the law. Last week, the first round of trials began for 108 suspects who have been charged. Of 21 suspects who stood trial, 12 were given the death sentence. No date has yet been fixed for the trial of the 87 others who have been charged.