London, 4 February 1999 (RFE/RL) -- Amnesty International says Chinese authorities have detained scores of people in what appears to be a crackdown on Muslim separatism in the Far West Xianjiang region.
In a new report today, the London-based rights group cites the cases of Uighurs arbitrarily detained and tortured over the past few months in the Xianjiang Uighur Autonomous Region (XUAR) and elsewhere in China.
An official Chinese government newspaper recently said several hundred Muslim Uighur activists were arrested in Xinjiang last year for separatist activities. There was no immediate government reaction to the Amnesty report.
The autonomous region, which borders on Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Pakistan and Mongolia, has seen rising ethnic tension between Uighurs and ethnic Han Chinese.
The Uighurs are the majority ethnic group in the XUAR, where the local population is predominantly Muslim. Following unrest in February 1997, the authorities tightened controls and repressed activity suspected of supporting Uighur nationalism -- officially termed "separatism" -- including peaceful religious activities.
An Amnesty statement today says: "This is believed to have exacerbated ethnic tensions and contributed to the escalation of violence in the region."
The report says some Uighurs have been detained merely for being relatives or friends of political prisoners or fugitives, or simply for being Uighurs. Many have been held without charge for several months in violation of Chinese law. Their relatives have received no news of them.
Amnesty International spokesperson, Arlette Laduguie, said today Chinese authorities have detained probably thousands of people over the past two years, some of whom may have been freed, while others have been kept in prison and eventually tried and sentenced.
"The cases we are publicizing are just a few cases, a few individual cases of people who are reported to have been detained in the past few months. For example, cases of people being arrested in Yining or Gulja, in the west of the region in July last year, which include several teachers who were accused of having helped national separatists, or attending meetings organized by separatists."
Cases cited in Amnesty International's new report include:
-- Scores of Uighurs reportedly detained in villages near Gulja (Yining) city in April 1998, after security forces reportedly shot dead six local Uighur youths.
-- A doctor reportedly detained by the military authorities in Gulja since July 1998 for giving medical treatment to alleged "separatists."
-- Four men and four children reportedly detained in the XUAR in September 1998 after being forcibly returned from neighboring Kazakhstan. The children were detained for 18 days and it is feared that the four men, believed to be still held in Kashgar city, may have been subjected to torture to extract information about their case.
Laduguie called on Chinese authorities to distinguish between cases involving crimes and those where the human rights of detainees have been violated:
"We would like the Chinese authorities to look at all these cases and really distinguish between what is a crime and what is a human rights (issue). It is not a crime to meet with a group of people to discuss politics, or even to form a political group. Many people are detained for such reasons who have not been involved in violence or were not prepared to use violence. Then there are even more arbitrary arrests of people who really are detained for no good reason at all. This is totally unjustified under international law."
Amnesty International is calling on the Chinese authorities to immediately release all prisoners held simply for peacefully exercising their fundamental human rights, and to ensure that Uighur and other ethnic detainees and prisoners are not tortured or subjected to other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.