26 July 2009

Heyrat Niyaz on the July 5 Riots in Urumchi

In its August 2 issue, the Hong Kong newsweekly Yazhou Zhoukan interviews Heyrat Niyaz (海莱特·尼亚孜), a Uyghur journalist, blogger, and AIDS activist. In the interview, which I've translated roughly below, Heyrat tells of how he tried to warn officials that "blood would flow" in Urumchi on July 5 and gives his thoughts about the background to the ethnic rioting.

UPDATE: Here's a link to the original item from Yazhou Zhoukan's website.

* * *
YZ: When did you feel that something could occur on July 5?

HN: After the incident in Shaoguan, Guangdong, I felt that something big would happen, that blood would flow. Before the Shaoguan incident, there were already seeds of a disturbance in Xinjiang. After the Shaoguan incident, I wrote a series of three blog posts analyzing the impact of the incident and, the more analysis I did, the more certain I felt about my prediction.

YZ: Do you believe the July 5 incident was organized and premeditated?

HN: Looking at it from today, it was certainly organized. As for premeditated, between June 26 and July 5, there was already plenty of time for that. But the most crucial thing was that the government did not take prompt measures to prevent deterioration of the situation. On July 4, I was continually listening to Radio Free Asia and the Voice of America. On that day, World Uyghur Congress President Rebiya [Kadeer] and others were truly a bit out of the ordinary on that day, with nearly all of the leaders going on the air to speak.

Around 8 p.m., I called a friend of mine in the government and said, "Something is going to happen tomorrow. You should take some measures." I gave him the URL of Rebiya's speech so that they could listen for themselves. They said they would report to their superiors.

The next morning, I called again. At around 10 a.m., I went with a friend to see a high official in the regional government. I told him that as an ordinary person of conscience, I have an obligation to remind you that blood will certainly flow today. You should immediately take steps and mobilize emergency preparations. Then, I made three recommendations: First, Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region Chairman Nur Bekri must make a public speech before 12 noon. Second, notify Han merchants in predominantly ethnic neighborhoods to close shop early and go home. Third, mobilize as many troops as you can, cordon off ethnic neighborhoods and block and patrol crucial intersections. After the close of business, impose martial law.

At the time, the official said he would make a phone call to seek instructions. In the end, not a single one of these recommendations was taken. In fact, I was not even the first person to warn the relevant government agencies on July 4. Just after 6 p.m. on July 4 another person had provided a warning.

YZ: You said that prior to the Shaoguan incident there were already seeds of a disturbance in Xinjiang. What do you mean by that?

HN: There are two direct reasons that led to something like what happened on July 5. First is the promotion of bilingual education, and the second is the government's arrangements to send Uyghurs away to work. These two policies were strongly opposed by many Uyghur cadres, but anyone who dared to say "no" was immediately punished.

The first to bear the brunt of the bilingual education policy were teachers who had previously taught in ethnic languages. Tens of thousands of teachers faced being laid off because their Chinese was not up to standard, and this led to unstable popular feelings among grassroots educators.

As for sending Uyghurs away to work, in the eyes of [Uyghur] nationalists you can joke all you like, but don't joke about our women. Almost all of the workers initially organized to be sent out to work were 17- and 18-year-old girls. At the time, some elders said, "Sixty percent of these girls will wind up as prostitutes; the other forty percent will marry Han Chinese." This led to enormous disgust [among people]. In carrying out this policy, the government first failed to carry out proper education work and, second, failed to realize that such a small thing could have such major repercussions.

YZ: Before the promotion of these two policies, how were ethnic relations in Xinjiang?

HN: In the 1950s, even though Mao Zedong criticized "great Han chauvinism" in Xinjiang, contemporary ethnic policies in Xinjiang never led to a rupture. Ethnic relations in Xinjiang really became more tense over the past 20 years or so. After taking office, Party Secretary Wang Lequan adopted a high-handed posture that would not allow for any ethnic sentiment among minority populations. For example, if a ethnic cadre were to express the slightest complaint during a meeting, he would definitely not be promoted and might even be sacked. [Wang] overemphasized and exacerbated the anti-separatist issue. In fact, border provinces in any country that have cultural, linguistic, or ethnic ties with foreign countries are bound to have such tendencies. The current anti-separatist struggle in Xinjiang is not simply something [being carried out] by law enforcement agencies but has become something [carried out] in the whole society.

YZ: Have these tense ethnic relations led to increased thoughts of independence among Uyghurs?

HN: My father took part in the "Revolution of the Three Districts" [in which ethnic partisans revolted against Chinese rule in 1944 and established the second East Turkestan Republic] as a soldier. Logically, he should be a classic example of someone with thoughts of independence, but as far as I know not even someone like him is pro-independence—much less so someone like me.

In fact, looking historically, the Uyghur people transformed early on from a desert-based [nomadic] people to an agricultural society and developed an extremely exquisite civilization. The nature of this people has become such that we don't spread or seek conflict. Even during its strongest point, this society was never expansionary. When the Khitan came, Uyghurs quickly surrendered. When the Mongols came, the Uyghurs basically surrendered without a fight. Historically speaking, Uyghurs don't like to fight and have no foundation for independence.

YZ: How do you view the issue of "East Turkestan"?

HN: This phrase "East Turkestan" is something invented by Europeans and not something that Uyghurs themselves came up with. However, it has been built up by the Turks and forcibly thrust upon us. We Uyghurs have no concept of "East Turkestan." From historic times to the presnt, Uyghurs have called Xinjiang "Land of the Uyghurs." No one has ever called it "Land of the Turks," much less "Eastern Land of the Turks."

YZ: If this is so, why do so many pro-independence types in Xinjiang make a fundamental claim for "East Turkestan"?

HN: At the time of the Silk Road, Uyghurs had opportunities to travel about in neighboring countries and their thinking was more open. Later, when maritime navigation became dominant, Uyghurs found themselves isolated and closed-off. In such a backwards circumstance, it's easy to think that "monks from outside can really chant the scripture" [i.e., outsiders have the answers]. It's just as when China first opened up, all sorts of ideas flowed in, both good and bad, and it wasn't clear which were good and which were bad. Moreover, over the past several decades local Uyghur elites suffered under the repression of the Communist Party's leftist policies and there were no opportunities to develop thought. The moment a few people shout "East Turkestan," many among our people have no idea what to think.

YZ: How do local Uyghur intellectuals view Rebiya [Kadeer]?

HN: They're not interested. Rebiya basically has no ideas.

YZ: For outside forces to be able to organize the July 5 incident, doesn't it mean that they have considerable influence inside China?

HN: Yes, definitely. I believe that the July 5 incident was organized by "Hizb-ut-Tahrir al-Islami" [ILP, Islamic Liberation Party], an illegal religious organization that has spread extremely quickly in southern Xinjiang. I've studied this group, which was founded by an Afghan. When the Afghan died, a Pakistani doctor among his followers carried out a reorganization and recruitment drive. Whether in China, Afghanistan, or Pakistan, the ILP is an underground movement. In 1997, when the ILP had just begun to appear in Xinjiang, there were probably only several hundred members. According to statistics made public last year by the relevant agencies, the organization may now have close to 10,000 members in Xinjiang.

On July 5, I was on Xinhua South Road watching as rioters smashed and looted. More than 100 people gathered and dispersed in an extremely organized manner, all of them wearing athletic shoes. Based on their accents, most were from the area around Kashgar and Hotan, but I did not see any of them carrying knives. I suspect they were from the ILP because of their slogans. The rioters were shouting "Han get out!" [and] "Kill the Han!" Other than these [slogans], there was also "We want to establish an Islamic country and strictly implement Islamic law." One of the main goals of the ILP is to restore the combined political and religious authority of the Islamic state and strictly implement Islamic law; it is a fundamentalist branch.

This organization is extremely disciplined and its composition rather unusual. It attracts young men around the age of 20, mostly from rural areas. In fact, this organization is extremely backwards, so that even among Uyghurs without any basic social underpinning, those with even a bit of education don't have any interest [in the ILP]. The influence of groups like this that have infiltrated from abroad is ultimately quite small, because they bring nothing to the table. A serious attack from the organs of state power could totally wipe them out. There's no need for anti-terrorism measures throughout society in Xinjiang.

YZ: What do you think is the main problem for Xinjiang at the moment?

HN: I don't think the main problem for Xinjiang is ethnic separatism. The key problem for Xinjiang is still economic development. Actually, so-called ethnic conflict is really conflict over interests. Last year during the "two meetings," I watched video of President Hu Jintao's meeting with the Xinjiang delegation many times. President Hu said that Xinjiang should emphasize development and only at the end did he say anything about stability. Subsequently, I decided to write a series of articles clarifying my views on this.

18 July 2009

Hu Yong on the Yan Xiaoling Defamation Case

I've just finished a rough translation of an opinion piece by Hu Yong (胡泳)that appeared in this morning's Southern Metropolis News in which he criticizes the use of criminal defamation charges to punish individuals who posted critical comments against local government officials' handling of the Yan Xiaoling case.

Defamation Can No Longer Be
Used to Restrict Netizen Speech

Hu Yong

The public security bureau in Mawei District, Fuzhou, recently detained Guo Baofeng and several other netizens. The lawyer for these detained netizens says that they were detained for posting or re-posting items on the Internet about the “Yan Xiaoling case” in which [Yan was] “brutally gang-raped to death by eight people.” Police have given the reason as “suspected defamation”; when the lawyer requested to meet with the detained individuals, police refused on the grounds that the case “involved state secrets. (See the July 17 Xin Kuai Bao report.)

These detentions sound quite familiar to us. Like the cases of Wang Shuai, Wu Baoquan, and others, they form a part of a long, long list of names of those bloggers and netizens who have been detained or convicted by organs of public authority for exposing the deeds of local governments. There are two basic elements of most of these types of cases. One is the fervor with which ordinary people use the Internet and employ text or video to expose and broadcast local injustice on popular Internet forums or blogs. The second is the habitual way that certain local governments, faced with suspicion or criticism, use the crime of defamation as a weapon of public power to attack private rights and try to restrict people's expression on the Internet.

Police have not said yet who the victim of defamation is [in the case of the] netizens detained this time in Mawei. But according to the provisions of Article 246 of the Criminal Law, “Whoever, by violence or other methods, publicly humiliates another person or invent stories to defame him, if the circumstances are serious, shall be sentenced to fixed-term imprisonment of not more than three years, criminal detention, public surveillance, or deprivation of political rights.” One should notice that this article is placed under Chapter IV of the Criminal Law, entitled “Crimes of Infringing upon Citizens' Rights of the Person and Democratic Rights.” That is to say that the crime of defamation is for serious acts of intentionally inventing and spreading false stories to damage a person's character or destroy their reputation. The object of this criminal infringement must be a citizen and not the reputation of a business, government organ, or other organization. This is why defamation cases typically can only be brought following charges from the victim and are only prosecuted when the victim files suit [directly] with the court. Only in defamation cases where there is serious threat to social order and national interest can the public security apparatus mobilize public authority to pursue criminal responsibility.

Among the posts regarding the “Yan Xiaoling case,” a few individual officials from the public security bureau and procuratorate have been mentioned by name. Could it be simply because of their official position that [the case] has become connected with social order and national interest? Moreover, the day after the posts appeared the relevant government agencies in Fuzhou made public statements denying the claims made in the posts. Even if the items by the posters and re-posters created a negative impression of the government agencies concerned, that doesn't necessarily make it unlawful or illegal acts that necessitate mobilizing the coercive power of the state for punishment. If criticism of public officials' actions [in carrying out] public authority can be punished as criminal defamation, the inevitable result is that no one will dare to carry out oversight of public authority and there will be no way to safeguard the highest value of citizens' freedom of speech.

Freedom of speech naturally includes the freedom to express mistaken ideas, and it is especially the freedom to question authority. This requires public officials who face criticism or even fabrications that exaggerate the truth to not automatically invoke defamation on the grounds of their rights of reputation or privacy—much less use the state's apparatus of violence to satisfy their own personal interests. Yet one after another, there have been cases [of individuals who] have been convicted for sending text messages or posting items on the Internet, many times with senior local officials availing themselves of the resources of public authority they have at hand and habitually attacking all criticism of their policies as if it were damage to their personal reputations—even not hesitating to rely on personal retaliation and stigma to clamp down on speech, thereby creating a society and environment for opinion in which everyone feels at risk.

In the situation in Mawei, not only has defamation been used as a catch-all, vague charge, but the authorities concerned have even resorted to using a new magic weapon—the use of “state secrets” to answer efforts by netizens and reporters who seek to understand the truth of the situation. To carry out an investigation for public prosecution of the “defamation” of a local official is already a mistake; to completely block the public and lawyers from understanding and investigating this case of public prosecution on the grounds that it “involves state secrets” only compounds the error. Can those who hold public power really use “defamation” and “state secrets” so arbitrarily to muzzle people's voices? There's no way to explain the logic of these parties: we can only conclude that their overbearing rule originates in their belief that they personally represent the authority of the law and administration and that any oversight and criticism is a threat to this authority. If this kind of scary logic is allowed to spread further, a malignant tumor will spread through local governance.

A netizen should both enjoy the freedom of speech protected by Article 35 of the constitution and rely on Article 41, [which gives] the right to criticize and make suggestions or even make complaints and charges against, or exposures of, violation of the law or dereliction of duty by any state functionary. There can be no arbitrary deprivation of these kinds of rights. As a netizen put it on kdnet: “As netizens, we pay attention to many issues, people, and phenomena be they from the past, present, or future, and we create original posts and re-post some items. As members of the public, we have the right to question—including parties concerned and the police. There are many things about which we don't have all the facts, so we must try to understand. You can explain, you can cross-examine, but you cannot break the law in the process of enforcing the law. Who gives you the right to use public authority to turn civil 'defamation' into criminal prosecution? Who is the victim of defamation here? If being concerned is a crime, then we are all guilty of this impardonable crime.”

17 July 2009

Update: Deng Yonggu Convicted of "Defamation," Exempted from Punishment

The case of Deng Yonggu, which I've posted about here, here, and here has finally concluded, with the Pengxi County People's Court in Sichuan finding Deng guilty of the crime of defamation but exempting him from punishment. Meanwhile, another major defamation case is brewing in Fujian, with six people detained so far for Internet posts critical of a police cover-up of a brutal gang-rape. I hope to have time to post something on this soon.