Uighurs are a muslim people that make up an ethnic minority in China, but the ethnic majority in East Turkestan--the western, desert area of the vast country. The government has long been encouraging Han Chinese, who make up the ethnic majority in China, to relocate to East Turkestan. Han Chinese now make up the majority in Urumqi, capital of Xinjiang province, which is somewhat synonymous with East Turkestan. The New York Times reports, "Uighurs say that the Han tend to get the better jobs in Urumqi." And the government has long imposed oppressive restrictions on Uighurs practicing their religion.
As in Iran but a few weeks ago--in defiance of an oppressive regime and in spite of a state-run media and a communications blackout--the Uighurs have successfully used new media to organize their protests.
The New York Times reports:
Internet social platforms and chat programs appeared to have unified Uighur anger over the way Chinese officials handled [a] brawl in June, thousands of miles away in Shaoguan, Guangdong Province. There, Han workers rampaged through a Uighur dormitory, killing at least two Uighurs and injuring many others, according to the state news agency, Xinhua.The clashes, however, are not limited to Uighurs and the police; Han Chinese mobs have assaulted Uighur neighborhoods and Uighurs have responded with violence in turn. Police and paramilitary forces have fired tear-gas on both sides, reports the New York Times.
A call for protests spread on Web sites and QQ, the most popular instant-messaging program in China, despite government efforts to block online discussion.
Rebiya Kadeer, head of the human-right advocacy group World Uighur Congress (and the person that the Chinese authorities blame for Sunday's protest), has written an opinion for the Wall Street Journal.
Wang Lequan, the Party Secretary of the "Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region" has blamed me for the unrest; however, years of Chinese repression of Uighurs topped by a confirmation that Chinese officials have no interest in observing the rule of law when Uighurs are concerned is the cause of the current Uighur discontent.An excellent video summarizing the events of the past few days is available here.