New details emerging from China’s northwestern Xinjiang region indicate that at least two of seven ethnic Uyghurs killed in a confrontation with police were women, and that children as young as seven years old were among those detained following the violence.
Police in the southern city of Hotan shot and killed seven "terrorists" who had “taken two hostages” on Wednesday, according to the Xinjiang regional Communist Party propaganda office.
Reports varied on the total number of people taken into custody following the incident in Mukula village, with some saying as few as four and others as many as eight.
“Two of the seven people killed by the police in the mountains were women. They are 29-year-old Burabiye Anduqadir and Buzohre Seydehmet. Their bodies are being held by the county Public Security Bureau,” Mukula village chief Minever Ehmet told RFA on Thursday.
“The four captives are children aged seven to 17 years of age. One child is an elementary school student in second grade. They are being interrogated by the county.”
When asked about the condition of the seven year old child, Ehmet said he was “still alive,” implying that he may have been severely injured in the shooting.
It was unclear whether any children were among those killed by police.
Beijing has often said that its primary terrorism threat comes from the Xinjiang region, where Uyghurs, a Turkic-speaking Muslim people, resent Chinese rule and controls on their religion, culture and language.
A police source had also told RFA earlier Thursday that the deputy police chief of Hotan’s Pishan county was stabbed to death during the confrontation.
According to the Mukula village chief, local officials have been working hard to hold back details from the family members of the slain Uyghurs.
Ehmet said authorities had been keeping details of the incident under wraps in order to “maintain stability” in the community. He said the village was under a security clampdown.
“Officials and police are focusing on working to prevent any reactionary incident from the families and relatives of those killed. In order to maintain stability during the funeral, officials have been talking with the families and explaining why the police fired on them.”
Seeking religious freedom
Memet Eziz Hapiz, chief of the No. 8 hamlet of Mukula village, said many of those killed and detained were from his jurisdiction.
“Two of the dead were from my hamlet. Their names are Ablikim Abduqadir, 40, and Hebibulla Abduqadir, 26. I believe that at least two of the captives are from my hamlet, but I have not yet been informed by officials because of the ongoing investigation.”
Hebibulla Abduqadir had been previously detained, he said. Two years ago he was held for three months after he attended an “illegal” religious class in Artush city.
"All of them were firm in their religious beliefs and liked to live according to their beliefs. That is why they were unhappy and unsatisfied with the country's religious policy. “
He said the group had been attempting to flee to a foreign country where they could practice their religion unhindered when they were confronted by police. Pishan county lies on the southern edge of the vast Taklamakan desert near the border with India and Pakistan.
A police officer from the Pishan county Public Security Bureau confirmed to RFA in a phone interview that the group had been trying to leave China.
"The 'traitors' tried to illegally cross the border and seek political asylum from an enemy country," he said.
The officer said that most of the group members were from Mukula village and that the police had acted to block them based on information they had obtained about their travel plans.
“The police reached them at the mountain near Qoshtagh village. At first, they were treated very nicely—the officers simply asked that they give up their plan and return to the village—but the traitors refused and got into an argument with them,” he said.
“Then they stabbed [police officer] Adil Abduweli, just because of he caught one of the women. After that, our armed forces took over and conducted the operation. One traitor escaped and we are in the midst of an operation to capture him."
The officer said that he was not present at the incident, but had heard the information from his coworkers at the Public Security department. He then hung up without giving his name.
A resident of Mukula village confirmed that the group of Uyghurs planned to travel to a neighboring country.
“Recently, village officials and police officers had made a lot of trouble for people who were more firm in their religious beliefs,” the villager said, implying that the group meant to leave China to apply for refugee status in another country.
“The fight between the [deputy] police chief and the fleeing group started after the officer caught one of the group member’s wives.”
Reported by Shohret Hoshur for RFA’s Uyghur service. Translated by Shohret Hoshur. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.