HONG KONG—Authorities in China’s remote and restive Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region have detained two ethnic minority Uyghur men and are searching for a third for allegedly leaking information related to the death in police custody of a man from their village, sources said.
Police detained Haji Memet, 35, and Abdusalam Nasir, 33, early Sept. 23 in Lengger [in Chinese, Langan] village, Qorghas county [in Chinese, Huocheng] county, Ili prefecture, according to two witnesses, who said a third man was also being sought for questioning.
Both spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of government reprisals.
“Their families are so afraid,” one witness said. “They’re afraid the men will be tortured.”
Local police couldn’t immediately be reached for comment.
Standoff over burial
Memet is related to Shohret Tursun, whose badly bruised and disfigured body was released to his relatives Saturday—prompting a standoff between authorities who wanted him buried immediately and family members who refused and demanded an inquiry.
Abdusalam Nasir, a villager, helped wash Tursun’s body before the burial, which authorities forced the family to hold on Sunday.
Nasir gave his mobile phone to Tursun’s father, Tursun Ishan, who spoke to Radio Free Asia (RFA) about his son’s death and his family’s demand for an autopsy.
Both Memet and Nasir were arrested on Jan. 25, 1997, on charges of “splittism.” They served eight and six years in jail, respectively.
On Saturday, one villager said, eight trucks of soldiers and two other armed vehicles surrounded Tursun’s family home after the family refused to bury him as instructed without an inquiry.
“We locked the door of the room where we keep the body, but the police officers broke the lock,” Tursun Ishan said in an interview. “There were too many…”
“They told me that he had a heart attack. But it was a lie. It is a lie. My son never had a medical problem in his life,” Ishan said.
“His body was full of wounds and bruises—his legs, belly, and back were covered with wounds and scars. His chest was full of bruises.”
Tursun, a member of the Uyghur ethnic minority and the father of a two-year-old, was among some 40 men from Qorghas detained around the time of deadly protests July 5 in the regional capital, Urumqi, villagers said.
The protests by Uyghurs, a largely Muslim Turkic people, followed alleged official mishandling of earlier ethnic clashes in far-away Guangdong province.
The July 5 protest sparked days of deadly rioting in Urumqi, pitting Uyghurs against majority Han Chinese and ending with a death toll of almost 200, by the government’s tally.
Tursun was detained July 6 in Urumqi. He was transferred to Ili on July 18 and Qorghas on July 23, his father said.
Uyghurs say they have long suffered ethnic discrimination, oppressive religious controls, and continued poverty and joblessness despite China's ambitious plans to develop its vast northwestern frontier.
Xinjiang is a strategically crucial vast desert territory that borders Russia, Mongolia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and India.
The region has abundant oil reserves and is China's largest natural gas-producing region.
Original reporting by Shohret Hoshur for RFA’s Uyghur service. Translation from the Uyghur by Zubeyre Shemshidin. Uyghur service director: Dolkun Kamberi. Written and produced for the Web in English by Sarah Jackson-Han.