China (MNN) — 156 people are dead, and 800 people have been injured in a massive protest in China's Autonomous Region of Xinjiang Uyghur.
The Muslim-minority Uygurs in the northwestern region claim that a peaceful protest in the city of Urumqi turned violent when police tried to disperse the crowd with tear gas and fire hoses. The state police, however, say that more than 1,000 protesters wielding knives, bricks and batons vandalized public property and caused disorder. Reports estimate that several hundred were arrested from the street protest.
Sunday's rally was reportedly in response to last month's ethnic clash between the Uyghurs and the Han majority in southern Guangdong Province. Two Uyghurs died, and more than 100 were injured after a man alleged online that six young men from Xinjiang had raped two girls.
After the riots, police searched houses of the Uyghurs and arrested more than 1400 men. Uyghur women started protesting their husbands' arrests. Although they did that peacefully, police fired on them.
According to official reports, more than 150 people have now been killed and hundreds have been wounded. In reality, the number of people who died in the violence is much higher.
Much damage has been done to shops and houses both in Chinese and in Uyghur quarters of the city. The unrest is spreading to Kashgar in the west of Xinjiang. According to an Open Doors worker in Central Asia, this could be the beginning of more turmoil in Xinjiang.
While by and large this has been an ethnic clash, Christians are caught in the middle, says Jerry Dykstra of Open Doors USA. He says it has put intense pressure on the small Christian Uyghur community for three reasons: "They are a national minority; many of them are Muslim-background believers from their Islamic environment; and they are Christians in a communist government of China."
Xinjiang is a very volatile region with intense ethnic tensions between the Uyghur minority and the Han Chinese. The Uyghurs feel discriminated in many ways. China is wary of Islamic fundamentalist influences in this region and is making great efforts to fight against religious extremism. Thousands of Uyghur Muslims have been detained in recent years. Any religious activity, any publication, any association which is not formally approved by the government is technically illegal.
Dykstra says despite the current problems, Uyghur evangelism has seen some fruit. "We know that many of them have come to Christ in the last few years, and some of the Christians are being held by the government there, also."
On Nov. 19, 2007, Osman Imin, an Uyghur Christian, was arrested on the charge of "revealing state secrets" and later sentenced to two years of "re-education through labor." State officials on Jan. 12, 2008 detained another Uyghur Christian–Alimjan Yimit, a Muslim convert and house church leader in Kashgar. Yimit was arrested on a "national security issue" charge. He remains in pre-trial arrest.
These believers have been arrested as separatists and could face the death penalty.
Dykstra says the situation doesn't look good. "According to our worker there, the unrest could spread even more. It's similar to what we had in Tibet last year. This is just another example of China wanting to extend their control of a minority people."
Please pray for an end to the violence in Xinjiang and for justice to be done to all parties. Pray especially for the protection of the Uyghur Christian community in this tense situation.