Security forces in northwestern China’s restive Xinjiang region have shot dead three ethnic minority Uyghur Muslim farmers after they allegedly resisted arrest in connection with suspected separatist activities, according to officials.
But a local Uyghur leader said the three did not commit any “tangible” crimes and were rounded up for possession of knives and axes as well as religious material.
The latest violence in the region came as Beijing stepped up an anti-terror campaign in the wake of bombings and other activities blamed on Uyghur separatists.
Tuniyaz Qurban, 26, Omer Abla, 21, and Yasin Awut, 25, were all killed by police in Aykol township, in Xinjiang’s Aksu prefecture, in three separate incidents over the last 10 days, Batur Qasim, the head of security in the township’s No. 19 village, told RFA’s Uyghur Service.
“Three people in our village and No. 20 village have been shot over the past ten days, while 13 have been detained and three are being sought,” Qasim said.
“When we asked what their crimes were, [the authorities] said some of them possessed forbidden religious books, while others had knives, axes, and fitness gear such as boxing gloves and sand bags. But I think that none of them, including the ones killed and detained, had committed any tangible crimes.”
Qasim said that two killings took place in his village, including that of Tuniyaz Qurban, who was shot on Aug. 16 while irrigating his crops, and Omer Abla, who was killed on Aug. 19 while driving his taxi to Aksu city.
“When I arrived at the scene of the shooting, the body of Tuniyaz Qurban had already been taken away. The police told me that he had not followed orders and had resisted them, but did not provide details. I learned more about what happened from other farmers who witnessed the shooting,” he said.
“The other farmers who were irrigating in the vicinity and watching from their courtyards said that the security forces started shooting a few minutes after they got out of their vehicle.”
Qasim said that he was told Qurban didn’t even have a chance to put his hands up, let alone offer resistance.
“The farmers were shocked that they would shoot so fast,” he said.
“He was shot three times and his body was taken away immediately.”
Qasim did not provide details on the shooting death of Abla.
A police officer from Aykol township confirmed that people had been killed in No. 19 village, but said he was unable to give further information.
“It is true that an incident occurred on [Aug. 16] in No. 19 village, where people were killed. But I cannot provide you with the details of what happened,” he said, before referring questions to Aksu security forces, who he said “carried out the campaign.”
Two farmers from No. 5 hamlet, in neighboring No. 10 village, told RFA that they had witnessed the shooting and that Qurban had been holding a “ketmen”—a kind of hoe—when police approached him.
One of the farmers, Awut Meqset, said that he had been irrigating his crops with Qurban as security forces arrived.
“Four or five police vehicles popped up on the edge of the road all of a sudden, and 15-20 police jumped out of them. They told me to back off and shouted to Tuniyaz, ‘drop your weapon.’ Tuniyaz was leaning on his motorcycle and he had a ketmen,” he said.
“I turned away and started walking. After one or two minutes passed, I heard gunshots, but I did not dare turn to look. He could not have resisted at all—there wasn’t even enough time to argue with them.”
Hesen Meqset, the other farmer who witnessed the shooting, said he was at his home when he heard the sound of sirens and went outside to see what was happening.
“The cars stopped at the fields where Tuniyaz Qurban was irrigating his crops. The police jumped out of their cars and said something to Tuniyaz,” he said.
“I saw Tuniyaz standing still. I can’t remember if the ketmen was in his hands or on the ground. Then I heard gunshots and Tuniyaz fell down,” he said.
According to Enwer Metrehim, the head of security for No. 20 village, police shot and killed Yasin Awut in his village, though he did not specify the date.
“[Awut] has two children. He was shot in his house, but I do not know what had happened there,” he said.
“The police told me that he did not follow orders and showed resistance, so they shot him.”
But he said that Awut’s wife later told him what had occurred.
“She told me that she and her husband were having lunch with their family when they heard sounds outside of their house. When they looked through the window, they saw police shouting in Chinese, but none of them could understand what they were saying,” Metrehim said.
“She said that Yasin Awut walked out of the house to see if there was any Uyghur police officer to speak with so he could figure out what was going on. He wasn’t carrying anything,” he said.
“As soon as he walked out the door, he was hit and fell to the ground. She said that she fainted out of fear, and when she woke up she saw her relatives around her, but was unclear what else had happened.”
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 Mamatjan Juma. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.