At least 50 ethnic Muslim Uyghurs were injured in clashes with police in central China's Henan province after the authorities dispersed protests by 1,000 Uyghurs angered by a Han Chinese man's lifting of a Uyghur girl's veil, rights groups said Thursday.
The Hong Kong-based Information Center for Human Rights and Democracy said the large group of Uyghurs had protested at the province's Zhenping County office on Wednesday after a scuffle between the man and several Uyghurs who found his action disrespectful.
As the protesters tried to enter the office, they were confronted by about 1,000 policemen, the center said.
Clashes broke out at night when police dispersed the crowd and detained some protesters, it said, adding that three police cars were damaged and some 50 Uyghurs wounded.
"I think, firstly it is an affront to the faith, and secondly, it is discrimination towards Uyghurs," World Uyghur Congress spokesman Dilxat Raxit, who is based in Sweden, told RFA's Cantonese Service.
He said the issue was not a simple case of sexual harassment facing Uyghur women, who were not allowed to enter Henan if they wore veils.
"This incident is a direct result of Chinese government's negative propaganda conducted through their media and their discriminative policy. They have been smearing Uyghurs’ image in Chinese cities. Therefore, this encouraged some Chinese people to commit acts like this against Uyghurs in Chinese cities," Dilxat Raxit told RFA's Uyghur Service.
"This incident also shows that Uyghurs will not stop protecting their own rights no matter what," he said, adding that the Uyghurs in Zhenping County were planning to stage protests again on Friday.
When RFA called the Zhenping County Public Security Bureau late Thursday, an official on duty who answered the phone said, "Do not listen to rumors," before asking the reporter to contact a police chief identified as just Wang.
Wang, when contacted, neither confirmed or denied the incident, saying they were investigating the matter.
"This is under investigation, events are unclear now."
Zhengping is known as a jade-carving town and many of the 3,000 Uyghurs living in the county are linked to Hotan, which is famous for its high-quality nephrite jade and situated in Xinjiang in northwest of China where the Turkic-speaking Muslim Uyghurs form a majority.
Uyghurs in Xinjiang often complain of policies favoring Han Chinese migration into the region and what they call the unfair allocation of resources to Chinese residents.
Reported by He Shan for RFA's Cantonese Service and by RFA's Uyghur Service. Translated by Hong Liu and Mamatjan Juma. Written in English by Parameswaran Ponnudurai.