By Lia Onely, Tuidang Center
The president of the Germany-based World Uyghur Congress, Rebiya Kadeer, claimed in early August, that Chinese security forces killed at least 2,000 members of the ethnic Uyghur minority on July 28 in and around Elishku, a town in Xinjiang.
Kadeer stated a group of Uyghurs marched to the police station and government offices to seek justice “for the killing of innocent villagers” which included the shooting death of a family of five by police over a dispute about wearing traditional headscarves. She claimed the police gunned down nearly all the protesters and went on to kill others in a house-to-house search.
Chinese state-media had at first claimed that “dozens” of people were killed but then changed the number of deaths to 96 a week later. But local Han Chinese residents of Yarkand County and the Silk Road city of Kashgar said the Chinese Communist Party was trying to “cover up” the extent of the violence, and had greatly underreported the number of deaths. No international or independent media or human rights monitors were allowed into the area.
Kadeer told RFA they have evidence in hand that at least 2,000 Uyghurs, mainly from villages No. 14, 15 and 16 in Elishku township, have been killed by Chinese security forces on the first day [of the incident] and they ‘cleaned up’ the dead bodies on the second and third day during a forced curfew. Kadeer added they have testimonies of witnesses on what had taken place during this incident.
A few photographs of the unrest ended up on Weibo, China’s version of Twitter, some depicting bloodstained streets and burned-out vehicles but they were quickly removed. No one outside of China has publicly verified what happened in Elishku, but experts say the death toll might be significant and witnesses told RFA it’s possible that over 1,000 people were killed.
Thomas Nelson, editor of the Uyghur Update newsletter said he believes the actual number of victims is somewhere between what China’s state media reports and what the World Uyghur Congress states. “But with a discrepancy as large as this one, where you have one side say less than 100 deaths and the other saying more than 2,000, there’s still the potential for a frighteningly large number of casualties.”
Henryk Szadziewski, senior researcher for the Uyghur Human Rights Project, stated it was difficult to confirm the death toll of the Elishku incident, since the regime blocked independent monitors. He also noted that Chinese authorities are currently shifting their priorities in Uyghur territory towards security-oriented policies.
Major Uyghur civil society figures were imprisoned since July this year, most notably Ilham Tohti, a prominent rights advocate and scholar who was sentenced to life in prison in late September. “It’s a very clear signal that the government won’t tolerate opposition to its ethnic policies,” stated Szadziewski.