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From the News
20-01-06, 10:06
China arrests rise in restive Xinjiang

By Ben Blanchard Fri Jan 20, 2:33 AM ET

BEIJING (Reuters) - Chinese authorities arrested more than 18,000 people for national security reasons in the mainly Muslim western region of Xinjiang last year, a newspaper said on Friday, which a dissident described as a rise of a quarter.


Uighur activists, who Beijing says are terrorists trying to split China, have been struggling for decades for self-determination in remote Xinjiang, formally established as an autonomous region on October 1, 1955.

The official Xinjiang Daily put the number of people arrested in the region for threatening state security -- which China considers everything from terrorism to sometimes even talking to foreign reporters -- at 18,227 people in 2005.

"Uighurs are scared. They can be arrested even for a slip of the tongue," Dilxat Raxit of the World Uighur Congress, a German-based group seeking more freedom for the region they call East Turkestan, told Reuters by telephone.

"We have no rights. But we are also human beings," he said, adding that even more people were probably detained by Chinese police and not formally charged -- all Uighurs.

Human rights abuses in Xinjiang were worsening and the world did not pay enough attention, he added.

"If anything, the human rights situation in Xinjiang is getting worse," Raxit said. "The world is not putting enough pressure on China because they are scared of affecting economic ties."

Human Rights Watch, a New York-based organization that campaigns against political repression and torture, said in its annual worldwide report that China remained beset by widespread rights abuses.

Xinjiang faced tightening repression, the group said.

On Thursday, China lashed out at the report, saying the claims came out of "thin air" and were entirely politically motivated.

Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Kong Quan told reporters he had not even bothered to read the report.

"If China thinks the report is wrong, it should let international human rights groups into Xinjiang to investigate without limits," Raxit said.

In October, China marked the 50th anniversary of the establishment of Xinjiang as an autonomous region.

China says its system of 'autonomous regions' for ethnic minorities allows them a degree of self-governance but activists say it is a means for Beijing to maintain tight control.

The Public Security Ministry last year labeled East Turkestan forces the main terrorist threat to China and said more than 260 terrorist acts had been committed in Xinjiang in the past two decades, killing 160 and wounding 440.

Among the most prominent Uighur activists is Rebiya Kadeer, a Uighur businesswoman freed in March and exiled to the United States after serving years in jail on charges of providing state secrets abroad.