Chinese authorities have released a photo of two Uyghurs from Xinjiang they say are believed responsible for the stabbing death of a local Muslim leader who had spoken out in favor of a government crackdown on members of his ethnic minority community involved in June violence.
The photo was posted by the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region’s Public Security Office on regional government news website Tianshannet.com last week along with a notice of a hefty reward for anyone who can provide information leading to the capture of the two men, according to the China Digital Times.
Abdurehim Damaolla, 74, deputy chairman of Turpan city’s government-affiliated Islamic Association and linked to a powerful national political advisory body, was stabbed in front of his home on the night of Aug. 15 after returning from leading evening prayers at Kazihan Mosque, according to local residents and officials.
The attack on the Uyghur imam followed a slew of deadly clashes in the Xinjiang region in recent months, including the June 26 violence in Lukchun township, also in Turpan prefecture.
Xinjiang is home to the ethnic minority Muslim Uyghurs who say they have long suffered discrimination, oppressive religious controls, and continued poverty and joblessness, blaming their hardships partly on a massive influx of Han Chinese into the region.
The reward notice said the two Uyghurs sought by the authorities are in their 20s.
“At 10 p.m. on August 15, 2013, at least one person was murdered in Al Township, Turpan, Xinjiang Province,” it said, adding that authorities had identified two suspects in the killing based on an investigation and eyewitness accounts.
It described the first suspect as a Uyghur-speaking male of around 20 years of age, approximately 1.7 meters (5.6 feet) tall, with a “well-proportioned build, no facial hair [and a] long haircut.”
The second suspect was also described as a 20-something-year-old Uyghur-speaking male of the same height with a “thin build [and a] high hairline on either side of the temples.”
Descriptions were given of the clothing each man was wearing at the time of the alleged crime.
The suspects were not identified by name, but a foreign news report identified one of the men as “Dilmurat Ghopur.”
Officials at Turpan city’s United Front Work Department, an agency under the command of the Central Committee of the ruling Chinese Communist Party, said last week that police had apprehended two suspects in the killing and were searching for a third.
“The masses are politely requested to actively supply leads and report the suspects,” the Xinjiang Public Security Office said in the reward notice.
“Public Security will offer a reward of RMB200,000 (U.S. $32,700) to any estimable person or work unit which directly turns in a suspect whose identity is verified; and RMB100,000 (U.S. $16,350) to any estimable person or work unit providing verifiable clues leading to the arrest of the suspects.”
The notice said that the identity of those who report the suspects would be “strictly protected.”
It urged the suspects to turn themselves in to the police and encouraged the families of the suspects to advise them to do so.
“You will receive a lenient sentence [if you turn yourselves in],” it said.
Turpan residents told RFA’s Uyghur Service last week that Abdurehim Damaolla had likely been targeted by his attackers because he had helped police apprehend suspects wanted in connection with the Lukchun violence.
Residents said the imam had given police “key information” about the whereabouts of the suspects while they were hiding in Turpan that had led to their arrest.
Local officials at the United Front Work Department—which is tasked with guiding religious and ethnic policy—said Abdurehim Damaolla had been targeted because of his support for strict policies in the wake of the Lukchun crackdown.
State media have said the Lukchun incident occurred after police opened fire on Uyghurs who had attacked local police stations with knives as part of a planned “terrorist attack” that Chinese authorities said left 35 people dead in the predominantly Uyghur township.
Officials and residents have said the death toll was at least 46.
Chinese authorities blame outbreaks of violence in the region on Uyghur "terrorists," but rights groups and experts say Beijing exaggerates the terrorism threat to take the heat off domestic policies that cause unrest or to justify the authorities' use of force against Uyghurs.
The attack on Abdurehim Damaolla is not the first on an imam in the Xinjiang region.
The imam of Kashgar Id Kah Mosque, Harunhan Haji, who was connected to several government-affiliated Muslim organizations, was attacked in May 1996 while on his way to lead prayers with his son. Both men survived and police later arrested the attackers.
Uyghurs in Xinjiang say they have long suffered ethnic discrimination, oppressive religious controls, and continued poverty and joblessness, blaming their hardships partly on a massive influx of Han Chinese into the region.
Reported by Shohret Hoshur for RFA’s Uyghur Service. Translated by Shohret Hoshur. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.