Written by Staff Writer Staff Writer
Editor’s Note — We continue to cover developments in China’s troubled Xinjiang region.
When Judge Yang Xinrui of the Uyghur Uyghur Commission in Germany recently gave evidence about the March 2009 riots, he said he was overcome with emotion and very emotional after the long day of testimony.
The video court proceedings were conducted in the German town of Mertzauer, which just so happens to sit in the centre of China’s western Xinjiang region.
In Xinjiang, where the scale of the repression of Uyghurs and other minority groups is not widely known, the use of the “terrorist” label as a justification for repressive policies is understood by many Uyghurs to mean “genocide”.
“When they say we are terrorists, we think it’s a crime. When you repeat something for three years and the sentence is the same, it’s genocide. That’s why I have tears in my eyes,” Yang said, in his last day of testimony before the tribunal.
Yang is the first Uyghur to testify at a U.S. court.
The ‘genocide’ label hasn’t been used in court for a very long time: not by a Uyghur, nor by a Western court
Yang said that the three-year sentences handed out for the March 2009 violence, which left more than 200 people dead, were just “an initial act”.
“That’s why I have tears in my eyes,” he told CNN. “It feels as if the entire world was looking upon us and watching. But no one can see that. Because one year later, now we have a life sentence,” he said.
“I have no words. That’s why I have tears in my eyes. It feels as if the entire world was looking upon us and watching. Because one year later, now we have a life sentence.”
Prosecutors at the hearing rejected Yang’s testimony as not credible.
Judge Yang Xinrui of the Uyghur Uyghur Commission also gave evidence about persecution in China’s west, but accused the Chinese government of genocide.
“Every Uyghur has a short memory. We don’t have the opportunity to repeat it over and over again. When we say we are innocent, we have no other choice than to believe in our own conscience,” Yang said.
As Yang’s testimony was taking place, the broadcaster China Radio International was broadcasting inside Xinjiang, in a programme dedicated to countering Uyghur voices that are deemed too “violent”.
The program also accused Yang of having foreign funding, an accusation Yang denies.
China’s Xinjiang has been gripped by an unprecedented wave of violence since October 2016, when a bomb attack at a vegetable market in Urumqi killed 31 people. A week later, police gunned down 15 people on a street in Urumqi, and another 10 died in an attack at a police station in Hotan on April 29.
Those were followed by deadly attacks in Kashgar, Yarkand and Hotan in the west.
The government says that unrest in Xinjiang is driven by Islamist extremists.
Human rights groups have called the Chinese crackdown a “massacre.”
Torture, arbitrary detention and “mass graves” were present at the first hearing of the Uyghur Uyghur Commission Tribunal, on September 11.
For some, the more disturbing testimonies came from local people — some of whom said they had been treated like prisoners at the hands of Chinese police.
The allegations included locking up people at police stations without food, and beating them while authorities filmed them.
Yang Enlai, the former U.S. Secretary of State, has referred to Xinjiang as China’s Guantanamo Bay, and this case has cast further scrutiny on a region already on the UN’s list of the world’s most oppressive places.
(Video contains graphic language)