July 2009 Ürümqi riots

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July 2009 Ürümqi Massacre
Part of Xinjiang conflict
WLMQ Cellphone screenshots 2v1.jpg
Screenshots from a mobile phone-taped video clip of violence on Tianchi Road
Date5 July 2009 (2009-07-05), UTC+8
Ürümqi, Xinjiang, China

43°49′30″N 87°36′00″E / 43.82500°N 87.60000°E / 43.82500; 87.60000
Caused byAnger over the Shaoguan incident
Parties to the civil conflict
2009 Ürümqi riots
Chinese name
Simplified Chinese乌鲁木齐7·5骚乱
Traditional Chinese烏魯木齊7·5騷亂
Literal meaningÜrümqi 7·5 riots
Alternate name
Simplified Chinese乌鲁木齐七·五暴力事件
Traditional Chinese烏魯木齊七·五暴力事件
Literal meaningÜrümqi 7·5 Violent Incident
Uyghur name
Uyghurبەشىنچى ئىيۇل ۋەقەسى
Literal meaning5 July incident

The July 2009 Ürümqi riots[12] were a series of violent riots over several days that broke out on 5 July 2009 in Ürümqi, the capital city of the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR), in Northwestern China. The first day's rioting, which involved at least 1,000 Uyghurs,[13] began as a protest but escalated into violent attacks that mainly targeted Han people. China's People's Armed Police were deployed and two days later hundreds of Han people clashed with both police and Uyghurs. PRC officials said that a total of 197 people died, most of whom were Hans,[10][7] with 1,721 others injured[8] and many vehicles and buildings destroyed. Many Uyghurs disappeared during wide-scale police sweeps in the days following the riots; Human Rights Watch (HRW) documented 43 cases[14] and said figures for real disappearances were likely to be much higher.[15]

Rioting began following the Shaoguan incident, a brawl in southern China several days earlier in which two Uyghurs had been killed.[16]The Chinese central government alleges that the riots themselves were planned from abroad by the World Uyghur Congress (WUC) and its leader Rebiya Kadeer,[17][1] while Kadeer denies fomenting the violence in her fight for Uyghur "self-determination."[18]

Chinese media coverage of the Ürümqi riots was extensive and was compared favourably (by Western media sources) to that of the unrest in Tibet in 2008.[19] When the riots began, telephone and internet connections with Xinjiang were cut off. In the weeks that followed, official sources reported that over 1,000 Uyghurs were arrested and detained;[10] Uyghur-run mosques were temporarily closed.[20] The communication limitations[21] and armed police presence remained in place as of January 2010.[22] By November 2009, over 400 individuals faced criminal charges for their actions during the riots.[11] Nine were executed in November 2009,[23] and by February 2010, at least 26 had received death sentences.[24]


Xinjiang is a large central-Asian region within the People's Republic of China comprising numerous minority groups: 45% of its population are Uyghurs, and 40% are Han.[25] Its heavily industrialised capital, Ürümqi, has a population of more than 2.3 million, about 75% of whom are Han, 12.8% are Uyghur, and 10% are from other ethnic groups.[25]

In general, Uyghurs and the mostly Han government disagree on which group has greater historical claim to the Xinjiang region: Uyghurs believe their ancestors were indigenous to the area, whereas government policy considers present-day Xinjiang to have belonged to China since around 200 BC.[26] According to PRC policy, Uyghurs are classified as a National Minority rather than an indigenous group—in other words, they are considered to be no more indigenous to Xinjiang than the Han, and have no special rights to the land under the law.[26] The People's Republic has presided over the migration into Xinjiang of millions of Han, who dominate the region economically and politically.[27][28][29][30]

At the start of the 19th century, 40 years after the Qing reconquest of the area, there were around 155,000 Han and Hui Chinese in Xinjiang and somewhat more than twice that number of Uyghurs.[31] A census of Xinjiang under Qing rule in the early 19th century tabulated ethnic shares of the population as 30% Han and 60% Turkic, while it dramatically shifted to 6% Han and 75% Uyghur in the 1953 census, however by 2000 the recorded population was 40.57% Han and 45.21% Uyghur.[32] Professor Stanley W. Toops noted that today's demographic situation is similar to that of the early Qing period in Xinjiang. In northern Xinjiang, the Qing brought in Han, Hui, Uyghur, Xibe, and Kazakh colonists after they exterminated the Zunghar Oirat Mongols in the region, with one third of Xinjiang's total population consisting of Hui and Han in the north, while around two-thirds were Uyghurs in southern Xinjiang's Tarim Basin.[33]

Although current PRC minority policy, which is based on affirmative actions, has reinforced a Uyghur ethnic identity that is distinct from the Han population,[34][35] some scholars argue that Beijing unofficially favours a monolingual, monocultural model that is based on the majority.[26][36] The authorities also crack down on any activity that appears to constitute separatism.[35][37] These policies, in addition to long-standing cultural differences,[38] have sometimes resulted in "resentments" between Uyghur and Han citizens.[39] On one hand, as a result of Han immigration and government policies, Uyghurs' freedoms of religion and of movement are curtailed,[40][41] while most Uyghurs argue that the government downplays their history and traditional culture.[26] On the other hand, some Han citizens view Uyghurs as benefiting from special treatment, such as preferential admission to universities and exemption from the one-child policy,[42] and as "harbouring separatist aspirations".[43]

Tensions between Uyghurs and Han have resulted in waves of protest in recent years.[44] Xinjiang has been the location of several instances of violence and ethnic clashes, such as the Ghulja Incident of 1997, the 2008 Kashgar attack, widespread unrest preceding the Olympic Games in Beijing, as well as numerous minor attacks.[27][45]

Immediate causes[edit]

Shaoguan is located in the southeast of China, a considerable distance from Ürümqi
Shaoguan, the location of the incident that sparked protests in July 2009. Ürümqi is marked in green.

The riots took place several days after a violent incident in Shaoguan, Guangdong, where many migrant workers are employed as part of a programme to alleviate labour shortages. According to state media, a disgruntled former worker disseminated rumours in late June that two Han women had been raped by six Uyghur men.[16][46] Official sources later said they found no evidence to support the rape allegation.[47] Overnight on 25–26 June, tensions at the Guangdong factory led to a full-blown ethnic brawl between Uyghurs and Hans, during which two Uyghur co-workers were killed.[48] Exiled Uyghur leaders alleged the death toll was much higher.[49] While the official Xinhua News Agency reported that the person responsible for spreading the rumours had been arrested, Uyghurs alleged that the authorities had failed to protect the Uyghur workers, or to arrest any of the Han people involved in the killings.[49] They organised a street protest in Ürümqi on 5 July to voice their discontent[16][17] and to demand a full government investigation.[50]

Three people seated in a small room. In the centre is a middle-aged woman with black hair in braids, a red shirt and a Uyghur doppa hat.
The Chinese government alleged that Rebiya Kadeer (centre) played a central role in instigating the riots.

At some point the demonstration became violent. A government statement called the riots a "pre-empted, organised violent crime [...] instigated and directed from abroad, and carried out by outlaws."[51] Nur Bekri, chairman of the Xinjiang regional government, said on 6 July that overseas separatist forces had taken advantage of the Shaoguan incident "to instigate Sunday's unrest and undermine the ethnic unity and social stability".[51] The government blamed the exiled independence group World Uyghur Congress (WUC) for coordinating and instigating the riots over the internet.[51] Government sources blamed Kadeer in particular, citing her public speeches after the Tibetan unrest and phone recordings in which she had allegedly said that something would happen in Ürümqi.[52] Chinese authorities accused a man who they alleged to be a key WUC member of inciting ethnic tensions by circulating a violent video, and urging Uyghurs, in an online forum, to "fight back [against Hans] with violence".[53] Jirla Isamuddin, the mayor of Ürümqi, claimed that the protesters had organised online via such services as QQ Groups.[54] China Daily asserted that the riots were organised to fuel separatism and to benefit Middle East terrorist organisations.[55][56] Kadeer denied fomenting the violence,[18] and argued that the Ürümqi protests and their descent into violence were triggered by heavy policing, discontent over Shaoguan and "years of Chinese repression", rather than by the intervention of separatists or terrorists;[57] Uyghur exile groups claimed that violence erupted when police used excessive force to disperse the crowd.[2][3]

All parties, then, agree that the protests were organised beforehand; the main points of contention are whether the violence was planned or spontaneous,[58] and whether the underlying tensions reflect separatist inclinations or a desire for social justice.[50]


Initial demonstrations[edit]

Road map of Ürümqi, showing where protests occurred and where they escalated, and where police were dispatched. Protests occurred at the Grand Bazaar in the centre of the map, at People's Square in the northeast, and at the intersection of Longquan and Jiefang Roads in between; protests escalated at the latter two locations. Police were later dispatched to two locations south of the Grand Bazaar.
Locations where protests and confrontations reportedly occurred

Demonstrations began on the evening of 5 July with a protest in the Grand Bazaar, a prominent tourist site,[50][4] and crowd reportedly gathering at the People's Square area.[59] The demonstration began peacefully,[17][54] and official and eyewitness accounts reported that it involved about 1,000 Uyghurs;[13][5][60] the WUC said approximately 10,000 protesters took part.[13]

On 6 July, XUAR chairman Nur Bekri presented an official timeline of the previous day's events, according to which more than 200 demonstrators gathered in People's Square in Ürümqi at about 5 p.m. local time, and about 70 of their leaders were detained. Later, a crowd gathered in the mostly Uyghur areas of South Jiefang Road, Erdaoqiao, and Shanxi Alley; by 7:30 pm, more than one thousand were gathered in front of a hospital in Shanxi Alley. At about 7:40 pm, more than 300 people blocked the roads in the Renmin Road and Nanmen area. According to Bekri, rioters began to smash buses at 8:18 pm, after police "controlled and dispersed" the crowd.[61]

How the demonstrations became violent is unclear.[62][63][64] Some say the police used excessive force against the protesters;[62][65][66] the World Uyghur Congress quickly issued press releases saying that the police had used deadly force and killed "scores" of protesters.[67][68] Kadeer has alleged that there were agents provocateurs among the crowds.[69][70] Others claim that the protesters initiated the violence; for example, an Uyghur eyewitness cited by The New York Times said protesters began throwing rocks at the police.[16] The government's official line was that the violence was not only initiated by the protesters, but also had been premeditated and coordinated by Uyghur separatists abroad.[51][54] The local public security bureau said it found evidence that many Uyghurs had travelled from other cities to gather for the riot, and that they had begun preparing weapons two or three days before the riot.[71]

Escalation and spread[edit]

After the confrontation with police turned violent, rioters began hurling rocks, smashing vehicles, breaking into shops and attacking Han civilians.[16][2] At least 1,000 Uyghurs were involved in the rioting when it began,[13][5] and the number of rioters may have risen to as many as 3,000.[1] Jane Macartney of The Times characterised the first day's rioting as consisting mainly of "Han stabbed by marauding gangs of Uighurs";[72] a report in The Australian several months later suggested that religiously moderate Uyghurs may also have been attacked by rioters.[22] Although the majority of rioters were Uyghur, not all Uyghurs were violent during the riots; there are accounts of Han and Uyghur civilians helping each other escape the violence and hide.[73] About 1,000 police officers were dispatched; they used batons, live ammunition, tasers, tear gas and water hoses to disperse the rioters and set up roadblocks and posted armoured vehicles throughout the city.[3][4][5][62]

Footage of the first day's violence, captured on a witness' cell phone

During a press conference, Mayor Jirla Isamuddin said that at about 8:15 pm, some protesters started to fight and loot, overturned guardrails and smashed three buses before being dispersed.[54] At 8:30 pm, violence escalated around South Jiefang Road and Longquan Street area, with rioters torching police patrol cars and attacking passers-by.[54] Soon, between 700 and 800 people went from the People's Square to Daximen and Xiaoximen area, "fighting, smashing, looting, torching and killing" along the way. At 9:30 pm, the government received reports that three people had been killed and 26 injured, 6 of whom were police officers.[54] Police reinforcements were dispatched to hotspots of Renmin Road, Nanmen, Tuanjie Road, Yan'An Road and South Xinhua Road. Police took control of the main roadways and commercial districts in the city at around 10 pm, but riots continued in side streets and alleyways, with Hans attacked and cars overturned or torched, according to the mayor.[54] Police then formed small teams and "swept" the entire city for the next two days.[54] A strict curfew was put in place;[74] authorities imposed "comprehensive traffic control" from 9:00 pm Tuesday to 8:00 am Wednesday "to avoid further chaos".[75]

The official news agency, Xinhua, reported that police believed agitators were trying to organise more unrest in other areas in Xinjiang, such as Aksu and the Yili Prefecture.[65] Violent protests also sprang up in Kashgar, in Southwestern Xinjiang,[76] where the South China Morning Post reported many shops were closed, and the area around the mosque was sealed off by a People's Liberation Army platoon after confrontations. Local Uyghurs blamed the security forces for using excessive force—they "attacked the protesters and arrested 50 people".[77] Another clash was reported near the mosque on Tuesday, 7 July and an estimated 50 people were arrested. Up to 12,000 students at the Kashgar Teaching Institute were confined to campus since Sunday's riots, according to the Post. Many of the institute's students had apparently travelled to Ürümqi for the demonstrations there.[78]

Casualties and damage[edit]

During the first hours of the rioting, state media only reported that three people had been killed.[17][3][79] The number rose sharply, though, after the first night's rioting; at midday on Monday, 6 July, Xinhua announced that 129 people had died.[80] In the following days the death toll reported by various government sources (including Xinhua and party officials) gradually grew, with the last official update on 18 July placing the tally at 197 dead,[6][7] 1,721 injured.[8][9] The World Uyghur Congress has claimed that the death toll was around 600.[13]

Xinhua did not immediately disclose the ethnic breakdown of the dead,[76] but journalists from The Times and The Daily Telegraph reported that most of the victims appeared to have been Han.[40][81] For instance, on 10 July Xinhua stated that 137 of the dead (out of the total of 184 that was being reported at that time) were Han, 46 Uyghur, and 1 Hui.[82] There were casualties among the rioters as well;[62] for example, according to official accounts, a group of 12 rioters attacking civilians were shot by police.[83][84] In the months following the riots, the government maintained that the majority of casualties were Han[10] and hospitals said that two-thirds of the injured were Han,[2] although the World Uyghur Congress claims that many Uyghurs were killed as well.[10] According to the official count released by the Chinese government in August 2009, 134 of the 156 civilian victims were Han, 11 Hui, 10 Uyghur, and 1 Manchu.[85] Uyghur advocates continue to question these figures, saying that the number of ethnic Uyghurs remains understated.[63] Xinhua reported that 627 vehicles and 633 constructions were damaged.[86]

The Ürümqi municipal government initially announced that it would pay ¥200,000 as compensation, plus another ¥10,000 as "funeral expense" for every "innocent death" caused by the riot.[87] The compensation was later doubled to ¥420,000 per death.[88] Mayor Jirla Isamuddin estimated that the compensations will cost at least ¥100 million.[87]

After 5 July[edit]

The city remained tense while journalists invited into the city witnessed confrontational scenes between Chinese troops and Uyghurs demanding the release of family members who they said had been arbitrarily arrested.[72] Uyghur women told The Daily Telegraph reporter that police entered Uyghur districts in the night of 6 July, burst through doors, pulled men and boys from their beds, and rounded up 100 suspects.[89] By 7 July, officials reported that 1,434 suspected rioters had been arrested.[90] A group of 200 to 300 Uyghur women assembled on 7 July to protest what they said was "indiscriminate" detention of Uyghur men; the protest led to a tense but non-violent confrontation with police forces.[91][92] Kadeer claimed that "nearly 10,000 people" had gone missing overnight.[93] Human Rights Watch (HRW) later documented 43 cases of Uyghur men who disappeared after being taken away by Chinese security forces in large-scale sweeps of Uyghur neighbourhoods overnight on 6–7 July,[63] and said that this was likely to be "just the tip of the iceberg";[15] HRW allege that young men, mostly in their 20s, had been unlawfully arrested and have not been seen or heard from as of 20 October 2009.[63]

On 7 July, there were large-scale armed demonstrations[94] by ethnic Han in Ürümqi.[95] Conflicting estimates of the Han demonstrators' numbers were reported by the western media and varied from "hundreds"[94] to as high as 10,000.[95] The Times reported that smaller fights were frequently breaking out between Uyghurs and Hans, and that groups of Han citizens had organised to take revenge on "Uyghur mobs".[72][95] Police used tear gas and roadblocks in an attempt to disperse the demonstration,[96] and urged Han citizens over loudspeakers to "calm down" and "let the police do their job".[95] Li Zhi, party chief of Ürümqi, stood on the roof of a police car with a megaphone appealing to the crowd to go home.[89]

Mass protests had been quelled by 8 July, although sporadic violence was reported.[97][98][99] In the days after the riots, "thousands" of people tried to leave the city, and the price for bus tickets rose as much as fivefold.[20][100]

On 10 July, city authorities closed Ürümqi mosques "for public safety", saying it was too dangerous to have large gatherings and that holding Jumu'ah, traditional Friday prayers, could reignite tensions.[20][101] Large crowds of Uyghurs gathered for prayer anyway, however, and police decided to let two mosques open to avoid having an "incident".[20] After prayers at the White Mosque, several hundred people demonstrated over people detained after the riot,[102][103] but were dispersed by riot police, with five or six people arrested.[102]

Over 300 more people were reported arrested in early August. According to the BBC, the total number of arrests in connection with the riots was over 1,500.[10] The Financial Times estimated that the number was higher, citing an insider saying that some 4,000 arrests had already taken place by mid July, and that Ürümqi's prisons were so full that newly arrested people were being held in a People's Liberation Army warehouse.[104] According to the Uyghur American Association, several other Uyghur journalists and bloggers were also detained after the riots; one of them, journalist Gheyret Niyaz, was later sentenced to 15 years in prison for having spoken to foreign media.[105] In the most high-profile case, Ilham Tohti, an ethnic Uyghur economist at Minzu University of China, was arrested two days after the riots over his criticisms of the Xinjiang government.[106][107][108]

Reactions and response[edit]

Domestic reaction[edit]

Communications black-out[edit]

Mobile phone service and internet access were limited both during and after the riots. China Mobile phone service was cut "to prevent the incident from spreading further".[109] Outbound international calls throughout Xinjiang were blocked,[110][111] and Internet connections in the region had been locked down[112][113] or non-local websites blocked. Reporting from Ürümqi's Hoi Tak Hotel on 9 July, Al Jazeera reported that the foreign journalists' hotel was the only place in the city with Internet access, although the journalist could not send text messages or place international phone calls.[111] Many unauthorised postings on local sites and Google were removed by censors;[63] images and video footage of the demonstrations and rioting, however, were soon found posted on Twitter, YouTube, and Flickr.[114] Many Xinjiang-based websites became inaccessible worldwide,[49] and internet access within Ürümqi remained restricted nearly a year following the riots;[115] it was not restored until 14 May 2010.[116]


Chinese state-controlled television broadcast graphic footage of cars being smashed and people being beaten.[117] Officials reiterated the party line: XUAR chairman Nur Bekri delivered a lengthy address on the situation and on the Shaoguan incident, and claimed that the government of both Guangdong and Xinjiang had dealt with the deaths of the workers properly and with respect. Bekri further condemned the riots as "premeditated and planned";[118] Eligen Imibakhi, chairman of the Standing Committee of the Xinjiang Regional People's Congress, blamed 5 July riots on "extremism, separatism and terrorism".[119][120]

Bespectacled Asian man in suit
The riots prompted PRC paramount leader Hu Jintao to return from the international G8 summit early.

The Chinese media covered the rioting extensively.[19] Hours after troops stopped the rioting, the state invited foreign journalists on an official fact-finding trip to Ürümqi;[121] journalists from more than 100 media organisations were all corralled into the downtown Hoi Tak Hotel,[110][111] sharing 30 internet connections.[110] Journalists were given unprecedented access to troublespots and hospitals.[122] The Financial Times referred to this handling as an improvement, compared to the "public-relations disaster" of the Tibetan unrest in 2008.[19]

In an effort to soothe tensions immediately after the riots, state media began a mass publicity campaign throughout Xinjiang extolling ethnic harmony. Local television programmes united Uyghur and Han singers in a chorus of "We are all part of the same family"; Uygurs who "acted heroically" during the riots were profiled; loud-hailer trucks blasted slogans in the streets. A common slogan warned against the "three forces" of terrorism, separatism and extremism.[123]

Chinese President and General Secretary of the Communist Party Hu Jintao curtailed his attendance of the G8 summit in Italy,[74][124] convened an emergency meeting of the Politburo, and dispatched Standing Committee member Zhou Yongkang to Xinjiang to "guid[e] stability-preservation work in Xinjiang".[125] South China Morning Post reported a government source saying Beijing would re-evaluate the impact on arrangements for the country's forthcoming 60th anniversary celebrations in October.[126] Guangdong's CPC Provincial Committee Secretary, Wang Yang, noted that the government policies towards ethnic minorities "definitely need adjustments", otherwise "there will be some problems."[127] A security planner said the authorities planned to fly in more troops from other stations to raise the number of armed police presence to 130,000 before the 60th anniversary celebrations in October.[104]

After the riots, the Chinese government exercised diplomatic pressure on nations that Kadeer was scheduled to visit. In late July, India declined Kadeer a visa "on the advice of Beijing",[128] and Beijing summoned the Japanese ambassador in protest of a trip Kadeer made to Japan.[129][130] When Kadeer visited Australia in August to promote a film about her life, China officially complained to the Australian government and asked for the film to be withdrawn.[130]

Internet response[edit]

The response to the riots on the Chinese blogosphere was markedly more varied than the official response. Despite blocks and censorship, Internet watchers monitored continued attempts by netizens to publish their own thoughts on the causes of the incident or vent their anger about the violence. While some bloggers were supportive of the government, others were more reflective of the event's cause.[131] On numerous forums and news sites, government workers quickly removed comments about the riots.[131][132] Common themes were calls for punishment for those responsible; some posts evoked the name of Wang Zhen, the general who is respected by Hans and other minorities, and feared by many Uyghurs for repression after the communist takeover of Xinjiang in 1949.[131]

International reactions[edit]

Intergovernmental organisations[edit]

  • United Nations: Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon urged all sides to exercise restraint,[133] and called on China to take measures to protect the civilian population as well as respect the freedoms of citizens, including freedom of speech, assembly and information.[134] Human rights chief Navi Pillay said she was "alarmed" over the high death toll, noting this was an "extraordinarily high number of people to be killed and injured in less than a day of rioting."[135][136] She also said China must treat detainees humanely in a way that adheres to international norms.[137]
  • Shanghai Cooperation Organisation: said it sympathised with the family members of those innocent people killed in the riot; it said that its member states regard Xinjiang as an inalienable part of the People's Republic of China and believe the situation in Xinjiang is purely China's internal affairs.[138] Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov condemned rioters for "Using separatist slogans and provoking ethnic intolerance.[139] Officials from both neighbouring Kazakhstan[140] and Kyrgyzstan said they were braced for "an influx of refugees" and tightened border controls.[141][142] Despite the Kazakh government support, over 5,000 Uyghurs protested on 19 July in former capital Almaty against Chinese police use of deadly force against the rioters.[143]
  • Organisation of the Islamic Conference: decried the "disproportionate use of force", calling on Beijing to "bring those responsible to justice swiftly" and urging China to find a solution to the unrest by examining why it had erupted.[144]
  • European Union: leaders expressed concern, and urged the Chinese government to show restraint in dealing with the protests:[145][146] German Chancellor Angela Merkel urged respect for the rights of minorities;[147] Italian President Giorgio Napolitano brought up human rights at a press conference with Hu Jintao, and said that "economic and social progress that is being achieved in China places new demands in terms of human rights."[148][149]


Turkey, which has a vocal Uyghur minority and is a majority-Turkic nation, officially expressed "deep sadness" and urged the Chinese authorities to bring the perpetrators to justice.[150][151] Its Prime Minister, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, said the incident was "like genocide",[152][153] while Trade and Industry Minister Nihat Ergün unsuccessfully called for a boycott on Chinese goods.[154][155][156] The violence against Uyghurs also provoked many Turkish people to gather for protests against PRC, mostly targeting Chinese embassies and consulates in Turkey's various cities. The Turkish stance sparked a significant outcry from Chinese media.[157][158][159] Kadeer claimed that Turkey was hampered from interfering with Uyghurs because it recognises that its own Kurdish issue may get interfered with by China in retaliation.[160]

Arab countries politically supported China in the OIC with especially Saudi Arabia and Egypt helping China squash any potential anti-Chinese motion by the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation on the Uyghurs, Egypt viewed its own internal sectarian problems like China's and Sudan was also concerned about external interference in its internal problems as well, while Indonesia had to deal with its own internal Islamists and emphasised that there was no religious conflict but instead ethnic based disturbances in Xinjiang to calm the situation down.[161] Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and Egypt helped China kill off a statement on the Xinjiang situation in the OIC.[162] There has been no public reaction by the Arab League, Saudi Arabia and Iran on the situation and China has built stronger relations with Iran and Saudi Arabia due to their influence in the Islamic world.[163]

Afghanistan,[164] Cambodia[165] and Vietnam said they believed the Chinese government was "taking appropriate measures,"[166] their statements backed "the territorial integrity and sovereignty of China."[164] Micronesian Vice-President Alik Alik condemned the riot as a "terrorist act."[167]

Demonstrators dressed in light blue, holding blue flags with white crescent. One in the foreground is wearing blue face paint.
Uyghur demonstration in Washington, D.C.

Iran said it shared the concerns of Turkey and the OIC and appealed to the Chinese government to respect the rights of the Muslim population in Xinjiang.[168]

The Japanese government was monitoring the situation, with concern;[169] Singapore urged restraint and dialogue;[170] while the ROC government in Taiwan strongly condemned all those who instigated the violence. Premier Liu Chiao-shiuan also urged restraint and expressed hope that the Chinese authorities will demonstrate the "greatest possible leniency and tolerance in dealing with the aftermath" and respect the rights of ethnic minorities.[171] Taiwan denied a visa to Kadeer in September 2009, alleging she had links to the East Turkestan Islamic Movement, classed as a terrorist organisation by the United Nations and United States.[172]

Street demonstration with banners, passing an official building
Demonstration in Berlin for Uyghur human rights

Switzerland called for restraint, and sent condolences to the families of victims and urged China to respect freedom of expression and the press.[173] Prime Minister Kevin Rudd of Australia urged restraint to bring about a "peaceful settlement to this difficulty."[147] Serbia stated that it opposed separatism and supports the "resolution of all disputes by peaceful means."[174] Belarus noted with regret the loss of life and damage in the region, and hoped that the situation would soon normalise.[175]

There was violence in the Netherlands and in Norway: the Chinese embassy in the Netherlands was attacked by Uyghur activists who smashed windows with bricks,[96] the Chinese flag was also burnt.[176] There were 142 arrests,[177] and China closed the embassy for the day.[178] About 100 Uyghurs protested outside the Chinese embassy in the Norwegian capital. Eleven were detained, and later released without charge.[179] Protesters from a coalition of Indonesian Islamist groups attacked guards at the Chinese embassy in Jakarta and called for a jihad against China.[180] Pakistan said there were some "elements" out to harm Sino-Pakistan ties would not damage or destabilise the interests of the two countries.[181] Sri Lanka stressed the incident was an internal affair of China and was confident that efforts by the Chinese authorities would restore normalcy.[182]

Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister Lawrence Cannon urged "dialogue and goodwill" to help resolve grievances and prevent further deterioration of the situation.[183] The spokesman for the Obama administration said the United States regretted the loss of life in Xinjiang,[145] was deeply concerned and called on all sides to exercise restraint.[133] U.S. State Department spokesman Ian Kelly, said "it's important that the Chinese authorities act to restore order and prevent further violence."[184] The United States Commission on International Religious Freedom expressed "grave concern" over repression in China and called for an independent investigation on the riots and targeted sanctions against China.[185]

Non-governmental organisations[edit]

  • Amnesty International: called for an "impartial and independent" inquiry into the incident, adding that those detained for "peacefully expressing their views and exercising their freedom of expression, association and assembly" must be released and others ensured to receive a fair trial.[186]
  • Human Rights Watch: urged China to exercise restraint and to allow an independent inquiry into the events, which would include addressing Uyghur concerns about policies in the region. It also added that China should respect international norms when responding to the protests and only use force proportionately.[187]
  • Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM): According to London-based risk analysis firm Stirling Assynt, Algeria-based AQIM issued a call to attack Chinese workers in North Africa.[188][189][190]

Media coverage[edit]

Chen Shirong, China editor on the BBC World Service, remarked at the improvement in media management by Xinhua: "To be more credible, it released video footage a few hours after the event, not two weeks."[191] Peter Foster of the Daily Telegraph observed that "long-standing China commentators have been astonished at the speed at which Beijing has moved to seize the news agenda on this event," and attributed it to his belief that "China doesn't have a great deal to hide".[122] A University of California, Berkeley academic agreed that the Chinese authorities had become more sophisticated.[121] The New York Times and AFP recognised the Chinese learnt lessons from political protests around the world, such as the so-called colour revolutions in Georgia and Ukraine, and the 2009 Iranian election protests, and concluded that Chinese experts had studied how modern electronic communications "helped protesters organize and reach the outside world, and for ways that governments sought to counter them."[121][192]

But Willy Lam, fellow of the Jamestown Foundation, sceptically said that the authorities were "just testing the reaction". He believed that if the outcome of this openness was poor they would "put the brakes on" as they did after the 2008 Sichuan earthquake.[192] There were instances of foreign journalists being taken into custody by the police, to be released shortly thereafter.[63] On 10 July, officials ordered foreign media out of Kashgar, "for their own safety."[193] Xia Lin, a top official at Xinhua, later revealed that violence caused by both sides during and after the riots had been downplayed or wholly unreported in official news channels, for the fear that the ethnic violence would spread beyond Ürümqi.[194]

A People's Daily op-ed rebuked certain western media outlets for their "double standards, biased coverage and comments". It said that China failed to receive fair "repayment" from certain foreign political figures or media outlets for its openness and transparent attitude. The author said "a considerable number of media outlets still intentionally or inadvertently minimised the violent actions of the rioters, and attempted to focus on so-called racial conflict."[195] However, D'Arcy Doran from Agence France-Presse welcomed the increased openness for foreign media, but contrasted their reporting to Chinese media, which closely followed the government line to focus mainly on injured Hans whilst ignoring the "Uyghur story" or reasons behind the incident.[192]

Many early reports of the riots, starting with one from Reuters, used a picture purporting to show the previous day's riots.[196] The photo, showing large number of People's Armed Police squares, was one taken of the 2009 Shishou riot and originally published on 26 June by Southern Metropolis Weekly.[197] The same picture was mistakenly used by other agencies;[198] it was on the website of The Daily Telegraph, but was removed a day later.[196] In an interview with Al Jazeera on 7 July, WUC leader Rebiya Kadeer used the same Shishou photograph to defend the Uyghurs in Ürümqi.[199] A World Uyghur Congress representative later apologised, explaining that the photo was chosen out of hundreds for its image quality.[198]

On 3 August, Xinhua reported that two of Rebiya Kadeer's children had written letters blaming her for orchestrating the riots.[200] A Germany-based spokesman for the WUC rejected the letters as fakes. A Human Rights Watch researcher remarked their style was "suspiciously close" to the way the Chinese authorities had described rioting in Xinjiang and the aftermath. He added that "it's highly irregular for [her children] to be placed on the platform of a government mouthpiece [...] for wide dispersion."[201]

Aftermath and long-term impact[edit]

Arrests and trials[edit]

A vertical, red banner hanging high on a building with Chinese writing: "维护法律尊严,严惩犯罪分子"
A red vertical banner saying "Uphold the sanctity of the law, and severely punish the criminals"

In early August, the Ürümqi government announced that 83 individuals had been "officially" arrested in connection with the riots.[202] China Daily reported in late August that over 200 people were being charged and that trials would begin by the end of August.[203][204] Although this was denied both by a provincial and a local Party official,[9] Xinjiang authorities later announced that arrest warrants had been issued to 196 suspects, of which 51 had already been prosecuted. Police also requested that the procuratorate approve the arrest of a further 239 people, and detention of 825 more, China Daily said.[205] In early December, 94 "fugitives" were arrested.[206]

The state first announced criminal charges against detainees in late September, when it charged 21 people with "murder, arson, robbery, and damaging property".[207] 14,000 security personnel were deployed in Ürümqi from 11 October, and the next day a Xinjiang court sentenced six men to death, and one to life imprisonment,[208] for their roles in the riots. All six men were Uyghurs, and were found guilty of murder, arson and robbery during the riots. Foreign media said the sentences appeared to be aimed at mollifying the anger of the Han majority;[209][210] the WUC denounced the verdict as "political", and said there was no desire to see justice served.[209] Human Rights Watch said that there were "serious violations of due process" at the trials of 21 defendants relating to July protests. It said the trials "did not meet minimum international standards of due process and fair trials" – specifically, it said that the trials were carried out in a single day without prior public notice, that the defendants' choice of lawyers was restricted, and that the Party had given judges instructions on how to handle the cases.[211] Xinhua, on the other hand, noted that the proceedings were conducted in both the Chinese and Uyghur languages, and that evidence had been carefully collected and verified before any decisions were made.[208]

By February 2010, the number of death sentences issued had increased to at least 26,[24] including at least one Han and one female Uyghur.[11][212] Nine of the individuals sentenced were executed in November 2009; based on previous government statements, eight were Uyghur and one was Han.[23][213]

Later unrest and security measures[edit]

A caravan of white armoured personnel carriers rolling through a city street, with soldiers carrying body shields marching alongside. Several civilians are standing by on the pavement.
Armed police troops in Ürümqi in early September 2009, after wide-scale civilian demonstrations and protests against the syringe attacks

Starting in mid-August, there was a string of attacks in which as many as 476 individuals may have been stabbed with hypodermic needles.[214][215] Officials believed that the attacks were targeting Han civilians and had been perpetrated by Uyghur separatists.[216] In response to both concern over the attacks[217] and dissatisfaction over the government's slowness in prosecuting people involved with the July riots, thousands of Hans protested in the streets.[218] On 3 September, five people died during the protests and 14 were injured, according to an official.[219][220] The next day, the Communist Party Chief of Ürümqi, Li Zhi, was removed from his post, along with the police chief, Liu Yaohua;[221] the provincial Party secretary Wang Lequan was replaced in April 2010.[222]

While the city became calmer after these events, and the government made great efforts to show that life was returning to normal, an armed police presence did remain. As late as January 2010, it was reported that police were making patrols five or six times a day, and that patrols were stepped up at night.[22] Shortly before the first anniversary of the rioting, the authorities installed more than 40,000 surveillance cameras around Ürümqi to "ensure security in key public places".[223]

Legislation and investigation[edit]

In late August, the central government passed a law outlining standards for the deployment of armed police during "rebellion, riots, large-scale serious criminal violence, terror attacks and other social safety incidents."[224][225] After the protests in early September, the government issued an announcement banning all "unlicensed marches, demonstrations and mass protests".[226] The provincial government also passed legislation banning the use of the internet to incite ethnic separatism.[115]

In November, the Chinese government dispatched some 400 officials to Xinjiang, including senior leaders such as State Council secretary general Ma Kai, Propaganda department head Liu Yunshan, and United Front chief Du Qinglin, to form an ad hoc "Team of Investigation and Research" on Xinjiang, ostensibly intended on studying the policy changes to be implemented in response to the violence.[227] In April 2010, hardliner party chief Wang Lequan was replaced by Zhang Chunxian, a more conciliatory figure.[228] The government authorised transfer payments totalling some $15 billion from eastern provinces to Xinjiang to aid in the province's economic development, and announced plans to establish a special economic zone in Kashgar.[228]

China has installed a grassroots network of officials throughout Xinjiang, its predominantly Muslim north-west frontier region, to address social risks and spot early signs of unrest: Hundreds of cadres have been transferred from southern Xinjiang, the region's poorest area, into socially unstable neighbourhoods of Ürümqi. A policy has been implemented where if all family members are unemployed, the government arranges for one person in the household to get a job; official announcements are calling upon university students to register for those payouts. The areas around slums are being redeveloped to reduce social risks, opening way to new apartment blocks.[229] However, independent observers believe that fundamental inequalities need to be addressed, and the mindset must change for there to be any success; Ilham Tohti warned that the new policy could attract more Han immigration, and further alienate the Uyghur population.[230]

Public services and Internet access[edit]

It took until at least early August for public transport to be fully restored in the city. According to Xinhua, 267 buses had been damaged during the rioting;[231] most were back in operation by 12 August.[232] The government paid bus companies a total of ¥5.25 million in compensation.[231] Despite the resumption of transportation services, and the government's efforts to encourage visitors to the region, tourism fell sharply after the riots;[22] on the National Day holiday in October, Xinjiang had 25% fewer tourists than it did in 2008.[233]

Ürümqi public schools opened on schedule in September for the fall semester, but with armed police guarding them. Many schools began first-day classes by focusing on patriotism.[234]

On the other hand, Internet and international telephone service in Ürümqi remained limited for nearly a year after the riots. As late as November, most of the Internet was still inaccessible to residents and international phone calls were impossible;[115] as late as December, most web content hosted outside the autonomous region remained off-limits to all but a few journalists,[235] and residents had to travel to Dunhuang 14 hours away to access the Internet normally. Within the city, only about 100 local sites, such as banks and regional government websites, could be accessed.[115] Both incoming and outgoing international phone calls were disallowed, so Ürümqi residents could only communicate by calling intermediaries in other cities in China who would then place the international calls.[115] The communications blackout generated controversy even within China: Yu Xiaofeng of Zhejiang University criticised the move, and many Ürümqi locals said it hurt businesses and delayed recovery, whereas David Gosset of the Euro-China forum argued that the government had the right to shut down communications for the sake of social stability; some locals believed that getting away from the Internet even improved their quality of life.[115]

In late December, the government began restoring services gradually. The websites for Xinhua and the People's Daily, two state-controlled media outlets, were made accessible on 28 December, the web portals Sina.com and Sohu.com on 10 January 2010,[236] and 27 more websites on 6 February.[237][238] But access to websites was only partial: for instance, users could browse forums and blogs but not post on them.[237] China Daily reported that limited e-mail services were also restored in Ürümqi on 8 February, although a BBC reporter writing at approximately the same time said e-mail was not accessible yet.[239] Text messaging on cell phones was restored on 17 January, although there was a limit to how many messages a user could send daily.[240][241] Internet access was fully restored in May 2010.[116]


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