A massive ethnic clash took place on June 26, 2009 at the Xuri toy factory in Shaoguan, Guangdong Province in southern China. This clash, which involved Han Chinese and Uyghur workers, was prompted by an internet-based rumor that six Uyghur men had raped two Chinese girls. According to Chinese media, two Uyghurs were killed and 118 injured, although many suspect that the government falsified the death toll. One Han Chinese man claimed to have assisted in the murder of seven or eight Uyghurs during the riot and estimated the death toll to be more than 30, including a few Han Chinese.
On the afternoon of July 5, 2009 in Urumqi, thousands of Uyghurs staged a protest demanding a more thorough investigation of the Shaoguan incident. No one will ever know who instigated the violence that day, but it is clear that a reservoir of discontent was set aflame. According to Chinese media, 197 people were killed and 1,721 injured, although those numbers are widely disputed as underestimates. The CCP never provided a count of the Uyghurs killed and injured in revenge attacks by Han Chinese on July 7, 2009 or an accurate tally of Uyghurs killed by security forces, what the Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan called “genocide.” Rumors abound that the CCP settled on the death toll as 197 in order to dissuade the United Nations and/or the West from intervening and to avoid losing face among the international community. The number 197 was strategically chosen because it signifies that the July 5th event was serious and that many people died, but that the seriousness of the event did not reach a level that might invite international intervention. The only thing certain is that many people died violent and gruesome deaths.
Thousands of riot police and security forces flooded Urumqi thereafter. Many have remained and continue, along with teams of civilians armed with batons, to patrol the streets of Urumqi, ostensibly to enforce peace. Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay have repeatedly called for a transparent independent investigation into the causes of the violence and its escalation; thus far, the CCP has not responded. Gheyret Niyaz, a Uyghur intellectual, had warned Xinjiang officials that violence was imminent prior to July 5, 2009, but was ignored. His subsequent criticisms of the government’s handling of the unrest were not. On July 23, 2010, Niyaz was sentenced to prison for 15 years for charges of endangering state security. According to police, Niyaz had “given too many interviews.”
After the event, while visiting some Uyghur villages around Kashgar, every Uyghur college student I encountered who had been studying in Urumqi during July 5, 2009 revealed that they had been searched and questioned; quite a few had been arrested. Almost everywhere in Kashgar proper, a most-wanted list is posted to exterior walls. One former Han Chinese prisoner I interviewed in a county close to Kashgar testified that in Kelakeqin (克拉克勤) prison alone, there were about 2,000 prisoners, most of who were Uyghurs accused of participating in the July 5th event and the aftermath. Together with the Maigaiti (麦盖提) prison and other local bingtuan prisons near Kashgar, there were about 6,000 prisoners.
An Amnesty International report “Justice, justice”: The July 2009 Protests in Xinjiang, China urged the Chinese government to launch an independent investigation into the July 5, 2009 violence, including the conditions of arrest of 1,400 people, claims of unnecessary or excessive use of force, and torture and ill-treatment of detainees. A Human Rights Watch report “We Are Afraid to Even Look for Them” documented the disappearances of 43 men and boys, although the true number of disappearances is thought to be higher. The World Uyghur Congress leader Rebiya Kadeer claims that “nearly 10,000” Uyghurs disappeared “overnight.” A Uyghur policeman who fled to Kyrgyzstan claimed that 196 Uyghurs “were tortured and killed” at a detention center south of Urumqi. A cursory look at the Amnesty International or Human Rights Watch publications will help outsiders understand why one Uyghur referred to life in post July 5, 2009 Xinjiang as a “nightmare” and “our second Cultural Revolution.”