China urged to grant Uighurs freedom

A Muslim separatist group branded as "terrorists" by China has said it was willing to disband if the communist state offered freedom of expression and internet access to Uighur Muslim minorities.

    About five million of China's 35 million Muslims are Uighurs

    The Munich-based East Turkistan Information Centre (ETIC) was set up in 1996 by Uighurs living in Germany to provide information to Uighurs living in northwest China's Xinjiang region, its spokesman Dilxat Raxit said.

    Its aim was also to expose the government's abuses of Uighurs' rights, he told AFP during a telephone conversation on Sunday.

    "If the Chinese government thinks we're inciting activities from overseas in the mainland, we hope the Chinese government will allow press freedom, allow foreign journalists to freely report in Xinjiang and allow international rights rapporteur to investigate in the jails without any obstacles," Raxit said.
     
    "And if Uighurs can have Internet freedom, then there's no reason why we need to exist. We will then disband," he said.

    Uighurs, who make up a large portion of the population in the restive Xinjiang region, are prevented from freely accessing the internet to read non-government sanctioned information about Xinjiang and the outside world.
     
    They are also prohibited from freely expressing their views online and risk being jailed if caught expressing dissent.

    Human rights violations

    China last week labelled the group, along with three other Uighur separatists groups, as terrorist organisations and sought international help to shut down the organisations and arrest their leaders.

    Amnesty says peaceful dissenters
    simply want more rights 

    Critics, including Amnesty International and other human rights groups, however, said China was making no distinction between terrorists and people practising peaceful dissent and who simply wanted more rights and autonomy from Chinese rule.

    The Uighurs are the majority ethnic group in the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region (XUAR) where the local population is predominantly Muslim.

    Following ethnic unrest in February 1997, according to Amnesty International, the authorities tightened controls and repressed any activity suspected of supporting Uighur nationalism - officially termed "separatism" - including peaceful religious activities.

    Some Uighurs, Amnesty says, 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.

    SOURCE: AFP


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