BEIJING, July 5 (Reuters) - The Chinese government is silencing voices of dissent in the restive far western region of Xinjiang by jailing ethnic Uighurs who speak out two years after deadly riots in the regional capital, Amnesty International said on Tuesday.
In July 2009, regional capital Urumqi was rocked by ethnic violence between majority Han Chinese and minority Uighurs that killed nearly 200 people. Many of the Turkic-speaking Muslim Uighurs, who call Xinjiang home, chafe at Beijing’s rule.
Since then, China has executed nine people it blamed for instigating the riots, detained and prosecuted hundreds of others and ramped up spending on security, according to state media and overseas rights groups.
Last month, Kazakhstan extradited a Uighur schoolteacher who had been granted U.N. refugee status to face charges of terrorism in China, brushing off concerns he could be tortured and that the charges against him were trumped up.
“The government is not only still muzzling people who speak out about July 2009, it is using its influence outside its borders to shut them up,” said Sam Zarifi, Amnesty’s director for the Asia-Pacific.
“The general trend towards repression that we see all over China is particularly pronounced in Xinjiang, where the Uighur population has become a minority in its own homeland.”
China is in the midst of a sweeping campaign against rights activists, following calls on-line for Arab-style “Jasmine protests” in China which have spooked Beijing.
Other Uighurs have been jailed for speaking to foreign reporters about the events two years ago, or for discussing the unrest on Uighur websites.
“Attacking every Uighur who speaks freely is no way to resolve the underlying grievances that led to the 2009 protests in the first place,” Zarifi added.
“The Chinese government has to listen to the grievances of the Uighur community and address their demands to have their rights respected and their culture protected.”
Since the unrest, China has turned its attention to boosting development in Xinjiang and providing greater job opportunities, especially for Uighurs, to try and address some of the root causes of the violence.
But the government has also installed some 40,000 surveillance cameras in Urumqi and increased by more than half this year’s regional security budget, to 2.89 billion yuan ($447 million), according to state media.
Communist Party mouthpiece the People’s Daily wrote in its overseas edition on Tuesday that Xinjiang was welcoming a period of “unlimited prosperity”, lauding efforts to boost development there.
Xinjiang is strategically vital to China and Beijing has shown no sign of loosening its grip.
A vast swathe of territory, accounting for one-sixth of China’s land mass, Xinjiang holds rich oil, gas and coal deposits and borders Afghanistan, Pakistan, India and Central Asia. ($1 = 6.463 yuan) (Reporting by Ben Blanchard; Editing by Sugita Katyal)