Tuesday, July 7, 2009

The Telegraph spouts the Chinese government line on Urumqi Uyghurs

To provide a counterpoint to what I wrote earlier today, Peter Foster at the Telegraph is reporting from Urumqi that the Chinese government's story checks out:

There was a presumption among the foreign media - made from afar as correspondents scrambled to get to Urumqi - that most of the 156 victims of Sunday’s riot were Uighurs. The implication being that they had been killed by security forces - another Tiananmen, if you will.

This never quite stacked up, as very few witnesses reported that the police had opened fire. In fact most reported the use of batons, electric prods and tear gas and other non-lethal methods to disperse the riot.

And why, if security forces had been responsible for the bulk of the deaths, would China be facilitating such unprecedented access to hospitals, holding press conferences (planned for later today) and allowing reporters to tour the city.

There are a couple problems I have with what he is saying. First of all, earlier in the piece he talks about how the Chinese government has "corralled the large international media presence in a single hotel," but that doesn't appear to him to be a sign that the government has something to hide.

But more importantly, where is he getting his information? He repeats some Chinese government numbers – "of 274 patients being treated in the People’s hospital 233 were Han" – but he admits that he got them straight from the government and that he hasn't been able to find any "firm details." Could it be – just maybe – that the "unprecedented access to hospitals" is actually the government trying to...I dunno...hide something?!

And why is there no mention of the president of the World Uyghur Congress' accusation that there are over 500 deaths, mostly Uyghurs? Surely Rebiya Kadeer is not a totally unbiased source, but then again, neither is the Chinese government.

Given that the Christian Science Monitor did a whole story on how difficult sources were to find in Urumqi and how residents and scholars absolutely refused to speak to the foreign press, I'd be curious to know what Peter Foster's secret is to reporting on what the CSM believes is unknowable to Westerners at the moment.

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