A Uyghur farmer compelled to join an anti-terror campaign waged by Chinese authorities in the troubled Xinjiang region has been hacked to death by two murder suspects, local officials said, raising concerns among the ethnic minority group about the risk of joining such government operations.
Tursun Emet was killed when he stopped the two Uyghur suspects on a motorcycle and demanded to see their identification documents in Yakowruk township in Aksu prefecture’s Uchturpan (in Chinese, Wushi) county, they said.
“When the two suspects stopped somewhere on the road, Tursun Emet stationed [his vehicle] in front of them and blocked them, demanding to see their IDs,” said Molla Hapiz, chief of nearby No. 7 village.
“The suspects took cleavers from their coats, saying, ‘These are our ID cards!’ and immediately hacked him up and slit his throat,” Hapiz told RFA’s Uyghur Service.
The two suspects are believed to have been involved in the murder of more than a dozen people, including 11 Han Chinese, according to local officials.
On Aug. 4, Tursun Emet and two other Uyghur farmers were traveling to Yakowruk township to meet with authorities organizing the search for them, when they encountered the suspects, identified as Sulaiman Tohti and Abdurehim Abdulla.
He said that Emet, a search team leader, and his two companions came across two men with a red motorcycle who looked like the suspects and followed behind them to try to verify their identity.
Hapiz said that the suspects only attacked Emet, who they may have believed to be a government official, because he was wearing a guard uniform which authorities had given to team leaders in the aftermath of a July 9 attack in Uchturpan’s Imamlirim township which left six Han farmers dead.
“The suspects did not pursue [the two other farmers who accompanied Emet] because they were not wearing uniforms,” he said.
Beijing has launched an anti-terror campaign to contain escalating violence blamed on Uyghur separatists in Xinjiang, where many Uyghurs complain of repression by the Chinese authorities and say the influx of majority Han Chinese threatens their culture and livelihood.
Baijiwen, the secretary of the Yakowruk branch of the ruling Chinese Communist Party, said that Emet—who was pressured by the authorities to lead a team pursuing crime suspects—had not been accompanied by security forces because it occurred so early in the day.
Tohti and Abdulla remain on the run and were part of a group of as many as nine Uyghurs sources have said were responsible for the July 9 slaying of six Han Chinese farmers in Imamlirim and a July 12 attack that left five Han businessmen dead after the suspects ambushed their car in Aksu city.
According to official sources, at least two of the other suspects were killed in confrontations with authorities and another 3-5 have been detained in raids.
Four other attacks
Mehmut Yasin, chief of Yakowruk’s No. 6 village, told RFA that the two suspects had killed three Han Chinese in two separate attacks one day before killing Emet.
“According to a notice I have received from higher level authorities, the two suspects stole the motorcycle after killing two Han farmers in Aktokay’s No. 8 village while crossing into Yakowruk township,” he said.
“They also killed the deputy director of a brick factory as they entered our township. The deputy director was also Han and his surname was Wang.”
Yasin said that official media had not reported any of the incidents in Uchturpan county, but said that local officials had been informed about them in township level meetings.
“I attended most of the meetings about the incidents, so I know that all of them occurred within a month throughout Uchturpan county and were carried out by the same attackers—now only two of the suspects remain on the run,” he said.
“I heard from the meetings that the total number of [victims] had reached 16 or 17.”
Village chiefs in Yakowruk township told RFA that local authorities had pressed Uyghur residents into taking part in the search for the attackers, though many had expressed concerns about the danger they were facing after learning of Emet’s death.
“Some of the farmers in my village started to oppose participating in the operations after our villager Tursun Emet died,” he said.
Yasin said that at Emet’s burial ceremony, villagers asked why the large number of security personnel in the area couldn’t capture the suspects, why they were expected to catch them using only sticks if well-armed authorities couldn’t, and why their lives were considered so worthless that they were being pushed to “the front” of operations.
“I conveyed these questions to leaders of the township. They had no answers, but I clearly saw the unhappiness on their faces,” he said.
“It is hard to work as a village chief, especially during a period like this.”
Hapiz said that local farmers were being pressured to volunteer for the raids, and that each day they participated would count as a day towards forced labor Uyghurs must take part in for two months out of the year—a requirement that Han farmers are exempt from.
“We are organizing the farmers to attend the operation under the order of the township government. We don’t pay them anything, we just distribute free bread for them at noon and we calculate each day they join as a forced labor day. It is also equal to 20-40 yuan (U.S. $3.25-6.50),” he said.
“Of course, not all the farmers are willing to join this free and dangerous work, but we convince them by reminding them of their obligation to protect the unity of the country and the stability of society … nobody can say no.”
According to a report by the official Xinhua news agency, police shot dead nine suspected terrorists and captured another in Xinjiang’s Hotan prefecture on Aug. 1 with the help of thousands of local “volunteers.”
Hundreds have died in violence in Xinjiang over the past year, but amid the tight security measures taken by Chinese authorities, foreign media groups say it’s almost impossible for journalists to make independent assessments.
In the latest violence to rock the remote region, Chinese state media said that 96 people were killed in July 28 riots which erupted after a “gang” of Uyghurs attacked a police station and government offices in Kashgar prefecture’s Yarkand (in Chinese, Shache) county.
However, Rebiya Kadeer, president of the exile World Uyghur Congress (WUC), accused authorities of a cover up of what she called a “massacre” of Uyghurs in Yarkand and claimed that at least 2,000 Uyghurs may have been killed by Chinese security forces following the riots.
Chinese authorities have blamed “separatists” from Xinjiang for a series of attacks which have expanded in scale and sophistication over the last year.
Reported by Shohret Hoshur for RFA’s Uyghur Service. Translated by Shohret Hoshur. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.