The former chief of a police station in the capital of China’s restive Xinjiang region who was a firsthand witness to some of the worst ethnic violence in the country has died suddenly, raising suspicions as to the cause of his death, according to various sources.
Tursun Bexti, who had dealt with sensitive cases involving Uyghurs missing in the aftermath of 2009 clashes in the Xinjiang capital Urumqi, was found dead in the yard outside his home in mid-May, sources told RFA.
His death raised unease among some Uyghurs because he was in his early 40’s and his death occurred just after the RFA’s Uyghur service reported individual and detailed accounts of Uyghurs who disappeared in the aftermath of the bloody riots.
An officer contacted by RFA at the Urumqi Municipal Public Security Bureau confirmed he had died last month but declined to give further details.
As chief of an Urumqi police station during the July 5, 2009 riots between Han Chinese and ethnic Uyghurs —the worst ethnic violence in China’s recent history—he had detailed knowledge about Uyghurs who disappeared following the unrest, sources said.
Exile Uyghur groups say some 10,000 Uyghurs were reported missing following the violence, which according to official statistics left some 200 dead.
Most of those disappeared are believed to have been taken into custody in large-scale roundups, often with little or no notice or explanation given to their relatives.
Following the unrest, Tursun Bexti was transferred to the petitioning office of the city’s Public Security Bureau, where he accepted and recorded the cases of Uyghur families demanding information about their missing loved ones.
“He was engaged in very sensitive and hard cases,” a police officer at the bureau who wished to be identified only as Zohre said.
Tursun Bexti had earned a reputation for attempts to be fair toward other members of the minority in his work, despite being part of an institution they often regarded biased against them, sources said.
Another police officer suggested that his death may be linked to his excessive questioning of authority.
“It is true that he was one of those who did not follow the orders of [higher] authorities without questioning them. He was always raising questions of ‘Why?’ and ‘What for?” to the authorities,” the police officer told RFA, speaking on condition of anonymity.
“I guess this was the cause of his death,” he said.
One source said Tursun Bexti died on May 14 and was buried two days later, as soon as his sons had returned to Urumqi from their universities in eastern China for the ceremony.
"His body was kept for two days until his two sons came from universities in inner China to attend the funeral. The funeral was conducted on Wednesday [May 16],” he said.
Ablet Rahman, a police officer from the Tianshan subdivision of the Urumqi Public Security Bureau who attended the funeral, said that the family had wanted to wait longer to hold the ceremony but authorities had rushed them.
He added that authorities promised his sons jobs after their graduation in an apparent attempt to ease any concerns.
“On Wednesday at the ceremony, our [police] chief Kadeer Memet promised Tursun Bexti’s family members that his sons would start work at the Urumqi public security department as soon they finished school,” he said.
Reported by Shohret Hoshur for RFA's Uyghur service. Translated by Shohret Hoshur. Written in English by Rachel Vandenbrink.