The authorities blamed the unrest on overseas Uighur "separatists", particularly Rebiya Kadeer, the President of the World Uyghur Congress, and failed to acknowledge the role of government policies in fuelling discontent among Uighurs. These policies included restrictions on freedom of expression, association and assembly; restrictions on religious and other cultural practices; and economic policies that discriminate against Uighurs and encourage Han migration to the region. New regulations further tightened already strict controls on the internet in the region, criminalizing its use with the vaguely defined crime of "ethnic separatism". Restrictions on internet access, international telephone calls, and text messaging, blocked in the immediate aftermath of the 5 July unrest, remained in place at the end of the year.
On 19 December, the Cambodian government forcibly returned 20 Uighur asylum-seekers to China, against UNHCR, the UN refugee agency, objections. Chinese authorities allege they had participated in the July unrest, and days later denied that the deportations were connected to a new US$1.2 billion aid package to Cambodia.
Tibet Autonomous Region
Protests which erupted in March 2008 continued on a smaller scale during the year, accompanied by persistent detentions and arrests. Two Tibetans were executed for crimes alleged to have been committed during the March 2008 unrest.
International human rights organizations reported a rise in the number of Tibetan political prisoners prior to sensitive anniversaries, including the 50th anniversary of the failed Tibetan uprising which led to the Dalai Lama's exile. The authorities blocked communication flows to and from the region and prevented independent human rights monitoring. Tibetans' rights to freedom of expression, religion, assembly and association continued to be severely restricted. The Chinese authorities became more assertive in their international policy regarding the Tibet issue, with public statements by Chinese officials that suggested their willingness to punish countries economically and diplomatically for perceived support of the Dalai Lama and Tibetan issues.
- In October, two Tibetan men, Losang Gyaltse and Loyar, were executed. They were convicted of arson and sentenced to death on 8 April 2009 by the Lhasa Municipal Intermediate People's Court. They had been arrested during unrest in the Tibet Autonomous Region and Tibetan-populated areas in neighbouring provinces in March 2008.
- On 28 December, DhondupWangchen, an independent Tibetan film maker, was sentenced to six years imprisonment for the crime of "subverting state power" after a secret trial by the provincial court in Xining, Qinghai province. The lawyer originally hired by his family was barred from representing him, and it is unclear if he subsequently had any legal representation or was able to defend himself during the trial.
Hong Kong Special Administrative Region
On 4 June, according to organizers, over 150,000 people commemorated the 20th anniversary of the Tiananmen military crackdown, but the authorities denied entry to some Chinese and foreign activists who wished to participate. In July, tens of thousands marched for causes including an improvement in people's livelihood, democracy and freedom of speech.
The Race Discrimination Ordinance (RDO) entered into force in July. In August, the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) noted that the RDO's definition of racial discrimination was not completely consistent with Article 1 of the UN Convention against Racism. CERD recommended that indirect discrimination with regard to language, immigration status and nationality be added to the definition. CERD also recommended that all government functions and powers be brought within the scope of the RDO.