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Violence in Xinjiang rooted in decades-long discrimination

7 July 2009

According to Minority Rights Group International (MRG), the latest violent clashes between Uyghur protesters and Chinese security forces in the Xinjiang capital of Urumqi have their origins in a lack of any meaningful political participation for Uyghurs in the region, restrictions on their religious and cultural practices and loss of their land.

Uyghurs are thought to currently number around 8.6 million, though some groups assert that their numbers are much higher. They tend to be mainly concentrated in the north-western corner of China and are still a majority in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR). Most are Sunni Muslims.

Uyghur frustration is also caused by lack of access to Uyghur language training, as well as an emphasis on standard Chinese in education and job recruitment, which in effect leads to discrimination, adds MRG.

MRG says the Chinese authorities all too often equate the frustration of ethnic minorities, and Uyghur activism in particular, with social unrest to be repressed, leaving the underlying factors driving ethnic disgruntlement unaddressed. This contributes to further undermine the frail social tissue and the tense relations between the minority Uyghur and the Han majority that inhabit the XUAR.

"MRG recognizes the obligation of the Chinese government to protect civilians, but it does not condone violent measures to repress ethnic communities that have experienced political subjugation and cultural and religious discrimination," says Carl Söderbergh, MRG's Head of Policy and Communications.

MRG urges China to foster peaceful dialogue, respect freedom of religious and cultural expression and engage in a more equitable and sustainable development in all of its autonomous regions.

Find out more about China's Uyghurs on MRG's Online World Directory of Minorities

Download a copy of MRG's and Human Rights in China's most recent report: China-Minority exclusion, marginalization and rising tensions