HONG KONG—Three youths belonging to the mostly Muslim Uyghur ethnic group and now under Chinese government protection after ethnic clashes in the southern province of Guangdong said fighting began when Han Chinese laborers stormed the dormitories of Uyghur colleagues, beating them with clubs, bars, and machetes.
The deadly fighting between Turkic-speaking, Muslim Uyghurs and Han Chinese at the Lacewood toy factory in Guangdong's Shaoguan city began late June 25 and lasted into the early hours of the following day.
Authorities said two people died and 118 were injured in the clashes, which were sparked by an online report that Uyghur migrant workers at the factory had raped two Chinese women. A Chinese man is now detained for "forging" that report.
Excerpts of interviews with the three men, conducted on a single, hidden cell phone, follow. All spoke on condition of anonymity, and while their accounts cannot be independently verified, they are consistent:
Uyghur Man 1: Who are you?
RFA: Radio Free Asia's Uyghur service. We broadcast in the Uyghur language.
Uyghur Man 1: We do not have any freedom here. If they hear us talking on the phone, they will punish us.
RFA: Where were you when the brawl happened?
Uyghur Man 1: We were taking our meal break after the night shift, when the day shifters [Uyghurs] were sleeping in their dorms. We saw them [Han Chinese] storm into their dorms, pull them out from their beds, and start beating them, hacking and burning.
RFA: What time was it when this happened?
Uyghur Man 1: It was around 12:30 a.m. or 1 a.m.
RFA: How many people stormed in?
Uyghur Man 1: Thousands of Chinese, and 800 Uyghurs were there.
RFA: How do you know there were thousands?
Uyghur Man 1: This factory is very big.
RFA:...Chinese workers attacked you?
Uyghur Man 1: Yes, as long as Uyghurs were around, they attacked us.
RFA: Everyone including female workers attacked you, or only male workers?
Uyghur Man 1: The females, too, were against us, and they were throwing things at us from the tops of buildings.
RFA: Apart from factory workers, were there any members of gangs from outside among the attackers?...
Uyghur Man 1: Yes.
RFA: How many of them were there?
Uyghur Man 1: It was dark, so we could not tell how many.
RFA: How did they attack? Did they just storm into the dorms or did they gather you somewhere?
Uyghur Man 1: When the first floor dorms were attacked, we, the night-shifters who were eating on the second floor, escaped.
RFA: So, only night-shifters who were out eating escaped, and those inside were attacked?
Uyghur Man 1: Yes.
RFA: How many night-shifters were there?
Uyghur Man 1: More than 200 people.
RFA: So, 200 of you escaped.
Uyghur Man 1: Yes.
RFA: Were you aware of what happened to those inside?
Uyghur Man 1: We were not given details. They simply told us that they were in the hospital receiving treatment.
RFA: So you did not see the brawl with your own eyes, correct?
Uyghur Man 1: Yes, we saw it.
RFA: Can you describe it? What did you see, for example?
Uyghur Man 1: I will tell you. It has been eight days since we have been forbidden from leaving.
RFA: How many of you are there?
Uyghur Man 1: More than 400 people are here.
RFA: All them escaped?
Uyghur Man 1: There are those who escaped and those who were moved from the site. We were put here and told that they were protecting us. They are feeding us rice.
RFA: There are 400 people there right now, correct?
Uyghur Man 1: Yes, we are the ones who escaped with few injuries.
RFA: Did you guys respond to the attack? Did you fight back?
Uyghur Man 1: If they had spit, we would have drowned.
RFA: So there were very many people?
Uyghur Man 1: Yes. We were empty-handed. They had bats, bars, clubs, cudgels, machetes, kitchen knives, and axes.
RFA: Can you describe your mental state now?
Uyghur Man 1: Our spirits are very low. We demanded to be allowed to return home. They did not allow us.
RFA: Let’s talk about those who died in the attack. Authorities say there were only two dead and 89 injured. Is it possible that there were so few casualties?
Uyghur Man 1: It is impossible.
RFA: Why do you say it is impossible?
Uyghur Man 1: I cannot say for sure, but we saw that ambulances were blocked. The injured inside [the ambulances] were also pulled out and stepped on, beaten. We were spared because we escaped to the mountains. I believe there are many dead. The injured also were numerous. It was merciless. We are Muslims. We do not shed blood nor take lives, isn’t that so? Our religion forbids this. But they were heartless.
RFA: We have heard that Uyghur girls were raped in the attack. Do you know about this?
Uyghur Man 1: We have heard so, but we did not see it. At least, I did not see it. I do not know if others saw it.
RFA: Are there any girls among the 400 people there?
Uyghur Man 1: Yes, there are girls.
RFA: Why were you forbidden from leaving the hotel for the past eight days?
Uyghur Man 1: Because if there is a Uyghur [on the streets], the Chinese will chase you, slash and kill you. The government is protecting us.
RFA: Who is outside protecting you?
Uyghur Man 1: The police.
RFA: If you were in the mountains, how did they bring you to the hotel?
Uyghur Man 1: When we were hiding in the mountains, military units from Shaoguan city came and stopped the beating. Then we came here with them.
RFA: How long did the brawl last?
Uyghur Man 1: It started between 12:30 a.m. and 1 a.m., stopping near dawn. At dawn, we were in [the military] vehicle.
RFA: What do you think happened to the other 600 Uyghurs who were left in the factory?
Uyghur Man 1: Perhaps more than half of them are OK, but the others are not.
Uyghur Man 1: Do you know the exact number of dead?
Uyghur Man 1: How can we know since we are [being held] here?
RFA: If there are 400 people there, where are the rest of you? Do you know where the rest are located?
Uyghur Man 1: There is no way we can know.
RFA: There is a report that Uyghurs girls also died. Do you know about this?
Uyghur Man 1: We have heard about it, but since we did not see it with our own eyes, we cannot be sure.
RFA: Do you know the cause of the attack? We have heard that it was because Uyghur men raped Chinese women, and then the Chinese attacked Uyghurs to take revenge. Is that true? Did you find out the reason for the fighting?
Uyghur Man 1: The rape allegation was false. Forged. I can only assume that because there were more injured on the Uyghur side. They said this to hold us responsible for what happened.
RFA: Then what do you think was the real cause of the attack?
Uyghur Man 1: Ethnic discrimination.
RFA: We have heard reports that Uyghur men were separated from Uyghur women in the workplace, and that they were assigned to different assembly lines. There, the Uyghur girls were sexually harassed and were asked to give massages to Chinese co-workers. Is this is true? Were there any incidents of Uyghur women being harrassed or abused there?
Uyghur Man 1: I have heard of it, but I did not see it.
RFA: Did the police come to suppress the fighting? If they did, when did they come?
Uyghur Man 1: They came at the end, when the fighting was almost over. They came at dawn—around 5 a.m.... Around 20 or 30 of them came before then.
RFA: You are saying that they were unable to stop the attack?
Uyghur Man 1: No, let me put it this way. They are all Chinese, right? I think you can understand even if I do not say the rest. Then, the armed police arrived with big trucks. At that point it was stopped.
RFA: When they stopped the brawl, did they beat you as well, or protect you?
Uyghur Man 1: They just stopped it. At the time we were escaping outside by breaking through a wire fence. We were not there.
RFA: What about the ones who were left inside?
Uyghur Man 1: The rest? They were beaten up by the Chinese, wherever they were taken by them.
RFA: It seems the government did not make any serious move to stop the clash—is that true?
Uyghur Man 1: That is right. They did not stop it in time.
RFA: Is that so?
Uyghur Man 1: Yes, then [the clash] became big.
RFA: Can I talk with someone who was inside?
Uyghur Man 1: Sure, here is someone to speak with.
RFA: You were inside when this attack happened?
Uyghur Man 2: Yes, I was there.
RFA: What did you see? Can you describe the scene?
Uyghur Man 2: It was dreadful.
RFA: In what way?
Uyghur Man 2: The Chinese stormed our dorms and started beating us up.
RFA: Can you describe how they beat you?
Uyghur Man 2: When they beat us they had machetes and other weapons in their hands.
RFA: Did they beat you one by one or as a group?
Uyghur Man 2: They just came together and beat us.
RFA: What were you feeling at that time?
Uyghur Man 2: We thought we were doomed.
RFA: Did you fight back, or did you not have any chance to do so?
Uyghur Man 2: We did not have any chance to fight back.
RFA: They were saying there are some Chinese injured as well. Do you know how they were injured?
Uyghur Man 2: At the beginning were in the dorms. Some of us are wanted to break through their circle and had to fight to escape to the mountains. That is how the Chinese might have been injured. I will now hand the phone to a guy who was injured at the scene.
RFA: OK. Where were you injured in the brawl?
Uyghur Man 3: Above my right eye and eyebrow. I got eight stitches. It was all opened and my skull was exposed.
RFA: What was used to hit you on the head?
Uyghur Man 3: A steel bar... When they chased me, I climbed up to the roof. I had to run upstairs. When I was escaping on the fifth floor, six of them came and started to beat me. When I fell, one of them hit me in the head ... When I fell down, they hit me. Then I got up and ran away.
RFA: Where did you go then?
Uyghur Man 3: I ran outside, away from the fighting, and hid myself somewhere.
RFA: You are injured. Why aren't you in the hospital?
Uyghur Man 3: I went to the hospital. Right now I am resting here.
RFA: Which hospital did you go to?
Uyghur Man 3: I don't know exactly.
RFA: Are there many injured?
Uyghur Man 3: Yes, there are a lot of injured people. But the government did not ask us about our injuries, what kind of compensation we need, or the cause of the injuries. We were just talking to each other about it and went by ourselves to treat the injuries. Nobody from their side asked us what had happened to us or the reason for our injuries.
RFA: How many injured Uyghurs did you see at the hospital?
Uyghur Man 3: They separated us when they took us to the hospital, so I am unsure.
RFA: How many people attacked the Uyghurs?
Uyghur Man 3: I think there are currently more than 6,000 Chinese workers at the company and there were gang members from outside as well. That is for sure. For that we do not have eyewitnesses at the moment, but it is clear that they injured the gatekeepers at the company and stormed into the factory. That is for sure. Even though we do not have any eyewitnesses, every one of us knows that gangs brought machetes and other weapons to hurt us.
RFA: What do you think was the cause of the fighting?
Uyghur Man 3: I do not want to talk about it.
Original reporting by Mamatjan Juma for RFA's Ugyhur service. Uyghur service director: Dolkun Kamberi. Translated by Mamatjan Juma. Produced for the Web in English by Luisetta Mudie. Edited by Sarah Jackson-Han.