HONG KONG—Authorities in the central Chinese province of Hubei have detained at least one man in connection with the beating to death of two ethnic minority Uyghurs during an apparent shoplifting attempt.
"We are dealing with [the case] here. [The suspects] have been detained," an employee who answered the phone at government offices in Hubei's Wuxue city said.
"There will certainly be [charges brought]. This is a judicial procedure," the employee said. "It will take one or two days to complete."
The case comes less than two weeks after the stabbing death of a Uyghur waiter, Tursun, in the southern city of Shenzhen, and amid simmering tensions following deadly ethnic riots in the western region of Xinjiang last July.
Beijing has blamed exiled Uyghur dissident Rebiya Kadeer for instigating the riots, which left around 200 people dead.
Kadeer has accused Chinese police of firing on unarmed protesters demanding an investigation into earlier killings of Uyghurs, who live mainly in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region and are mostly Muslim, at a factory in southern China.
The Wuxue official said relatives and supporters of the dead Uyghurs had come to demonstrate outside the municipal government buildings and were quickly met by officials for "arbitration and ideological work."
The situation has returned to normal, he said.
An official who answered the phone at the Wuxue municipal police station said a group of around 200 Uyghurs had congregated outside the government offices earlier in the week.
"A bunch of them went down to the area around the Power Guesthouse," the official said.
"They are still there causing trouble."
Meanwhile, a second government official said a cremation was planned within the next few days.
"The family has been handled very well indeed," he said.
In the absence of official media reports, unconfirmed versions of the violence were spreading around Wuxue by word of mouth.
One resident surnamed Song said the Uyghurs were reportedly in the process of stealing something when they were killed.
"They weren't going about ordinary business like work. They were stealing," Song said.
"The Uyghurs who steal do so more blatantly than Han Chinese because the punishment they get is relatively light," he added, repeating a view frequently expressed about Uyghurs on online forums.
Another resident, surnamed Guo, said a brawl had broken out after the Uyghur men tried to snatch a woman's purse.
"Apparently there were some people from Xinjiang trying to steal a woman's bag and she called some people over to beat them up," he said.
"They beat one to death, and then injured another [critically]. He didn't make it."
Exiled Uyghurs speak out
Dilxat Raxit, spokesman for the Munich-based World Uyghur Congress, said the deaths of the two Uyghur men were the latest in a string of violent attacks by Han Chinese on Uyghurs, who are given biased treatment by state-run media.
"They are basically lying to cover up and whitewash cases in which Uyghurs are the victims, and try to make them look like ordinary criminal cases," Raxit said.
He said killings of Uyghurs by Han Chinese will only increase unless the ruling Communist Party changes its official policy toward Uyghurs, which he described as one of enmity under the aegis of Beijing's "war on terror."
World Uyghur Congress leader Kadeer condemned the stabbing of Tursun last week, which she said was not "a random incident."
Kadeer cited three other attacks on Uyghurs in recent months, including the death in detention of Shohret Tursun, a native of Ili prefecture, the unexplained death of musician Mirzat Alim, and the beating and subsequent hospitalization of Urumqi-based photographer Kaynam Jappar.
Shenzhen police have arrested seven Han Chinese men in connection with the Jan. 11 stabbing incident.
News of the Wuxue case appeared briefly online in China, but was quickly removed by censors. No official media have reported the case so far.
The head of a Hubei-based nongovernment group, Civil Rights & Livelihood Watch, said he had been contacted by local police and had been warned not to publicize the Uyghurs' killings.
"They told me not to talk about it, and to leave it well alone," said Liu Feiyue in a hurried and reluctant phone conversation.
Original reporting in Cantonese by Fung Yat-yiu, and in Mandarin by Qiao Long. Mandarin service director: Jennifer Chou. Cantonese service director: Shiny Li. Translated and written for the Web in English by Luisetta Mudie. Edited by Sarah Jackson-Han.