HONG KONG—Authorities in the southwestern Chinese province of Sichuan have denied reports of a series of syringe stabbings like those reported in Urumqi in September, but they have confirmed that people have been beaten to death in the city this month.
The Chinese-language Apollo News Web site reported Oct. 4 that five people were beaten to death by angry crowds in early October, with some local people saying they were thieves, and others saying they were suspected syringe attackers of the kind reported in September's attacks in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR).
Police in Suining confirmed that people had been beaten to death but ruled out a racial element in the attacks.
"The status of the victims and the cause of the event is not clear yet," an employee who answered the phone at the Shehong police station in Sichuan's Suining city said.
"There have been no killings related to Xinjiang people here."
Tensions are running high between the Turkic-speaking, Muslim Uyghur minority, whose homeland is in Xinjiang, and the majority Han Chinese, following riots in Urumqi in early July in which 197 people died.
"I think there must be some other reason why those people were beaten to death," the police station employee said, referring to the killings in Suining.
"You shouldn’t release the news based on the Internet."
The Apollo News report quoted eyewitnesses as saying that "there have been a number of people beaten by crowds in Suining because they were suspected of stabbing pedestrians in the city."
It cited the beating deaths of two people in the New Market area of South District on the evening of Oct. 2, and the beating death of a young man at 11 a.m. the following day in the Xiaodongjie area on suspicion of being a syringe stabber.
"Eyewitnesses reported seeing a young man of about 20 years of age running fast, pursued by local people," the report said.
"He was caught very quickly, and beaten around the head with chairs by some. Another beat him with iron poles, while some kicked at his head with their feet. After a while, two police officers arrived, but they were unable to stop the enraged crowd, which had joined in the attack on the then-motionless youth."
"An ambulance arrived about half an hour later and took him away from his attackers. Some people said he was a syringe stabber; others said he was stealing people's earrings," the report said.
Resort to violence
Suining authorities have repeatedly denied that any syringe attacks have occurred in the city, sparking calls for greater media transparency to calm the angry population.
"This sort of mob violence which has been continuously happening among the civilians tells us that China never uses its legal system in the right way," according to Hong Kong-based Dongxiang magazine editor-in-chief Jiang Wenguo.
"Civilians have been getting used to solving their problems in a violent way based on their own interests, but not the rule of law," he said.
He said a series of politically inspired violent movements during the past 60 years of Communist Party rule was also to blame.
"Because of these violent activities, people were divided into different ranks and became enemies to each other. As a result, tragedies have been happening continuously for the past 60 years," Jiang added.
Probe under way
Residents and officials say Urumqi remains a tense and fearful place following a series of stabbings in public places with hypodermic syringes in early September.
An employee who answered the phone at a Suining hotel said local officials had made similar announcements in the Sichuanese city in recent days.
"According to the government, this event is still under investigation," the desk clerk at the Kangneng Star Hotel said.
"They said the news on the Internet is not accurate. I heard that the [beating victims] were not from Xinjiang, but were local people," she added.
"The police have announced that before their investigation is complete, people are not allowed to spread inaccurate news based on their own ideas to cause trouble and violence in society."
"Anyone who violates this rule will be punished according to law," she said.
In Xinjiang, the People's Congress Standing Committee passed the "Information Promotion Bill" last week banning people in the region from using the Internet in any way that undermines national unity, incites ethnic separatism, or harms social stability.
Armed police still stand guard in public places around the XUAR and are detaining anyone found with footage of the ethnic riots that erupted in the regional capital Urumqi in July. Original reporting in Uyghur by Mehriban. Uyghur service director: Dolkun Kamberi. Translated from Uyghur by Chughluk. Translated from Chinese and written for the Web in English by Luisetta Mudie. Edited by Sarah Jackson-Han.