A leading figure of the exile Uygur community has expressed her concern over a “fierce state crackdown” by Beijing on China’s ethnic Uygurs as police investigate a possible suicide attack in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square on Monday.
Rebiya Kadeer, leader of the World Uygur Congress, an overseas exile group which has been condemned by Beijing, spoke of her concerns that the Chinese government could impose “repressive measures” on Uygur people after police linked Uygur suspects to the fatal car crash.
Video: China to 'ensure safety of capital' after car blaze
“I fear for the future of East Turkestan and the Uygur people more than I ever have,” Kadeer said in a statement from Washington, referring to Xinjiang, where most of Uygurs live. “The Chinese government will not hesitate to concoct a version of the incident in Beijing so as to further impose repressive measures on the Uygur people.”
Five people were killed and at least 38 wounded on Monday when an SUV rammed through barricades in front of Tiananmen Square’s gate tower and burst into flames. On Tuesday, police asked Beijing hotels for information on eight suspects, mostly Uygurs, and on Xinjiang licence plates. Most of China’s ten million Uygurs live in the remote and restive far western region.
So far, Chinese officials have not publicly linked the incident to Uygurs. Hua Chunying, a spokesperson for the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs, reiterated on Tuesday that police were investigating the matter, but declined to comment further.
The World Uygur Congress, which defines itself as an advocacy group for the improvement of Uygur rights, said that Beijing’s approach to dealing with the incident would “lead to further demonisation of the Uygur people and incite a fierce state crackdown on East Turkestan.”
Xinjiang has been rocketed by several deadly clashes this year. At least 139 people have been arrested in the region in recent months for allegedly spreading jihad, Xinhua said. In August, 22 Uygurs and a policeman died in a raid near Kashgar, state media and exile groups said.
One of the Tiananmen suspects is from Lukqun in Xinjiang’s Shanshan county, where a riot in June left 35 dead.
For Reza Hasmath, a lecturer in Chinese politics at Oxford University, the Chinese authorities have to learn to deal with such cases of "flash violence" more effectively.
"There is going to be a rise of flash violence in China due to religious repression, and more acutely, due to socio-economic reasons such as segmented labour shares and unequal sectoral distribution in occupational categories," he said.