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Imam of China's biggest mosque killed in Xinjiang
by Staff Writers
Beijing (AFP) July 31, 2014

Exile group calls on China to release Uighur academic
Beijing (AFP) July 31, 2014 - A Uighur exile group on Thursday demanded the immediate release of an academic charged with separatism in China, saying the decision to prosecute him was political in nature.

"We demand China immediately correct its mistaken methods and release Ilham Tohti," Dilxat Raxit, spokesman for the World Uyghur Congress (WUC) said in an e-mail.

Raxit said that China's accusation against Tohti was a "complete political decision" that was not in accordance with the law.

Prosecutors in the far western Xinjiang region on Wednesday announced they were charging Tohti with separatism following his detention earlier this year, sparking renewed international calls for his release.

A conviction of separatism in China can be punished by death.

Tohti, who taught at a university in Beijing, has been a vocal critic of the government's policies toward his mostly Muslim Uighur minority, who are concentrated in Xinjiang.

The United States on Wednesday called on China to free Tohti, saying it was "concerned" over reports of his indictment.

But in a sharp riposte Beijing on Thursday urged Washington to not interfere in its affairs.

"The US side has on many occasions made irresponsible remarks on China's law enforcement and judicial practices under the disguise of their so-called 'human rights' and 'freedom' which constitutes wanton interference in China's sovereignty," said foreign ministry spokesman Qin Gang.

"Ilham Tohti violated Chinese law, and his case is being processed in accordance with the law," Qin was quoted as saying by the state news agency Xinhua.

But the Human Rights Watch (HRW) called the charges against Tohti "deeply disturbing".

"The decision to indict on such a serious charge a man like Ilham Tohti, who is known for trying to bridge divides, shows how far China's human rights have deteriorated in the past months," Sophie Richardson, HRW's China director, said in a statement Thursday.

"It sends precisely the wrong signal to Uighurs when tensions are at an all-time high."

The charges come as China is cracking down over a series of violent attacks that blames on religious extremists and "terrorists" seeking independence for the region.

Such violence has grown more frequent over the last year and has occurred in areas far beyond Xinjiang.

China blames militants from Xinjiang for an attack in Urumqi that killed 31 people in May, and for a March stabbing spree at a train station in the southwestern city of Kunming in which 29 people died.

Rights groups and many analysts and academics counter that the cause of the unrest can be found in state cultural and religious repression of Uighurs.

"The Chinese government appears determined to silence Uighurs like Tohti, who for years has tried to peacefully express Uighurs' legitimate grievances and advocate peaceful solutions," HRW's Richardson said.

"Demonising moderates like Tohti won't bring peace to the region."

The head of China's largest mosque was murdered after conducting morning prayers, the local government in far western Xinjiang said Thursday, amid intensifying violence in the turbulent region.

Jume Tahir, the government-appointed imam of the 600-year-old Id Kah mosque in the city of Kashgar, was killed Wednesday by "three thugs influenced by religious extremist ideology", the Xinjiang government web portal Tianshan said.

Police launched an all-out investigation and shot dead two of the alleged assailants while capturing the other at about noon on Wednesday as they violently resisted with "knives and hatchets," Tianshan said.

Tianshan said Tahir's killing was "premeditated" and that the suspects intended to commit a "ruthless murder".

It also said they wanted to "increase their influence through 'doing something big'".

Tianshan identified the suspects by their names in phonetic Chinese. The official Xinhua news agency in an English-language report gave their names as Turghun Tursun, Memetjan Remutillan and Nurmemet Abidilimit.

Neither Tianshan nor Xinhua initially identified who among them was shot dead and who was apprehended.

Tahir was found dead in a pool of blood outside the mosque's prayer house, Radio Free Asia (RFA) reported earlier on its website.

Xinjiang, home to China's mostly Muslim Uighur ethnic minority, has seen escalating violence which in the past year has spilled over into other parts of China.

RFA cited what it described as "witnesses and other officials", including the director of a neighbourhood stability committee in Kashgar, who described the killing as an assassination.

Imams and other religious leaders in China are appointed by the government and subject to strict control on the content of their preaching.

- 'Critical' of Uighur violence -

US-based RFA said that Tahir had been critical of violence carried out by Uighurs, and China's official Xinhua news agency in early July quoted him as condemning terrorist violence carried out in the name of ethnicity and religion.

Tahir, 74, "enjoyed a high reputation among Muslims nationwide", Xinhua said in its dispatch Thursday.

Dilxat Raxit, spokesman for the exiled World Uyghur Congress (WUC), did not condemn the killing.

"Chinese policies in the area have caused things to happen which should not happen," he told AFP in an email.

"According to local Uighurs, Jume Tahir consistently co-operated with the government, aided the monitoring of religious activities, and used his position in the mosque to promote Chinese policies which are unacceptable to Uighurs," he said.

"Local Uighurs suspected he had a special relationship with the Chinese ministry of security."

The Id Kah mosque is said to have a capacity of up to 20,000 people.

Kashgar, where the mosque is located, is an old oasis city that was part of the Silk Road trade route that ran from Europe to Asia.

The killing of Tahir came two days after dozens of people died in violence between Uighurs and security authorities in the Kashgar region.

Nearly 100 people were left dead or wounded, the WUC said, while authorities put the toll in the "several tens" in what they called a "terror attack" on a police station and township in Shache county, known as Yarkand in the Uighur language.

- Series of attacks -

Beijing commonly blames separatists from Xinjiang for carrying out terror attacks which have grown in scale over the past year and spread outside the restive and resource-rich region.

A market attack in Urumqi, Xinjiang's capital city, in May left 39 people dead, while a deadly rampage by knife-wielding assailants at a train station in Kunming in China's southwest in March killed 29 people.

They came after a fiery vehicle crash at Tiananmen Square, Beijing's symbolic heart, in October last year.

The violence has led China to carry out a broad crackdown on terrorism. President Xi Jinping on a visit to Xinjiang in late April called for a "strike first" strategy to fight terrorism and said the Kashgar area is China's "front line in anti-terrorist efforts".

Chinese prosecutors on Wednesday brought charges of separatism -- which can carry the death penalty -- against prominent Uighur academic Ilham Tohti, detained earlier this year.

Rights groups and analysts accuse China's government of cultural and religious repression which they say fuels unrest in Xinjiang, which borders Central Asia.

The government, however, argues it has boosted economic development in the area and that it upholds minority rights in a country with 56 recognised ethnic groups.


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Uighur group says nearly 100 casualties in China clash
Beijing (AFP) July 30, 2014
A clash in Xinjiang, home to China's mostly Muslim Uighur minority, left nearly 100 people dead or wounded, an exile group said Wednesday after what authorities called a "terror attack" on a police station and township. Dozens of civilians and assailants were killed and injured in the attack by a gang armed with knives and axes, Chinese state media reported late Tuesday. "Police officers ... read more

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