At least five people including two policemen died in a bloody incident in a juvenile jail in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region in western China in late May that sources tell RFA was sparked when Uyghur youths rebelled after a Chinese guard shot and killed an inmate for praying.
While details are sketchy because Chinese authorities in Urumqi are trying to keep the incident quiet, RFA’s Uyghur Service has learned that the incident occurred in the early morning on May 25 or 26 in the Urumqi No.1 Juvenile Labor Camp located in Ulanbay district of Urumqi, the capital of the restive Xinjiang region.
“I know the incident occurred in Ulanbay jail, but I cannot tell you any details about it, because we are ordered to keep it secret,” a police official at Ghalibiyet (in Chinese, Shengli) Road police station told RFA.
“Even if you ask me a thousand times, I will repeat the same thing over and over again. We cannot reveal anything on this incident. Period. We have a very urgent directive on this,” he added.
While police have been ordered to keep silent on the issue, and little has been said by anyone directly involved, one police officer told RFA he was on patrol when he heard about the incident.
“I was informed that an incident had happened in Ulanbay jail on the 26th of May at 2 a.m., but I was not called to the scene,” said the officer, who also requested anonymity. “I did the street patrol as I was ordered, but a SWAT team was sent to the jail and we were notified by 6 a.m. that the incident was contained, so I returned home.”
The officer added: “There was some discussion among the police about how many people were killed and who they were. After we have a written report on this, then we can say something about it.”
While the cause of the incident remains unclear and first-hand accounts are scarce, a police officer told RFA that he overheard another police who said an officer named Hemit was “educating” an inmate who prayed in the jail.
The so-called “education” was harsh and the inmate protested against Hemit by brandishing a chair. Hemit then attempted to subdue the inmate by firing toward him, but he missed what he was shooting at and the shot was fatal, the officer said.
After the shooting, 50 to 60 other inmates rushed the guards’ office, surrounded three guards, and argued with them, but the SWAT team arrived and fired on the, the officer said.
“A number of inmates were killed, but I do not know if any police were among the dead,” the officer said. “I heard that inmates also injured the guards before the SWAT team arrived.”
According to a letter from an RFA listener: “The police officer who died in the incident was named Hemit and he graduated from Banong Fuzhong, a high school affiliated with Xinjiang Agricultural University.”
Staff at the high school and the university confirmed they had heard about the incident, telling RFA that 10 juvenile prisoners escaped from the camp after killing two police officers.
The staff said three of the prisoners were killed and seven others captured as they tried to escape. Staff at the schools identified the police officers killed in the incident as Hemit Halmurat, 29, and Yong Chun, 41.
“The martyr Hemit graduated from our school a long time ago,” said Zheng Guojing, a staff member at Banong Fuzhong.
“The incident occurred on May 25th in the early morning. We visited his parents the next day and expressed our condolences,” Zheng Guojing said. “On May 26th the authorities held a memorial ceremony at the juvenile camp, our school’s director attended the ceremony, and we happened to get a little information about the incident from the director.”
Ma Zhiqiang, a staff member at Banong Agricultural University, said he received an official notice from the Urumqi City Police Department saying: “On the early morning of May 25th, 10 juvenile prisoners escaped from the camp after killing two police officers in the guardhouse. We got the situation under control by 10 a.m. on May 26. Three prisoners have already been killed, and seven were captured.”
Halmurat Eset, the father of Hemit Halmurat, said his son had studied Russian for two years, and was only working at the prison because he could find no other job.
'Sorry your son was killed on duty'
“He started to work at that place against his will,” Halmurat Eset told RFA. “Unfortunately I have not been given any detailed information about the incident, other than being told: ‘Sorry, your son was killed on duty.’”
The story Halmurat Eset tells differs slightly from the version obtained by RFA.
“According to one of my son’s friends in the police department, the police officer Yong Chun shot a prisoner, and other prisoners attacked Yong Chun and killed him. My son then blocked the prisoners while they attempted to escape and they then killed my son. Actually, my son had good relations with the prisoners.”
Saniye Tursun, the mother of Hemit Halmurat, said officials haven’t been forthcoming with details of her son’s death other than saying he was stabbed.
“I am wondering how the prisoners could get a knife,” she said. “I just saw my son’s face in the funeral room. His face was turning blue. “
According to Saniye Tursun, all the prisoners in the group had been charged with endangering state security and most had been punished for watching illegal religious films on cell phones.
A staff member at the Huagong Institute of Banong Agricultural University told RFA that the notice of the incident was very short, and left more questions than answers.
“There is no information on why or how the prisoners escaped,” the staffer said. “What was the cause of the escape? Some say they were tortured. Some say the prisoners clashed with police in the camp, but it is clear that they knew that they couldn’t go anywhere even if they got out from the camp. I believe that they faced some urgent situation or incident which pushed them to try to escape from jail as a last resort.”
Dolqun Isa, executive chairman of the Munich-based World Uyghur Congress, told RFA they had received some information about the incident.
“According to our source, the torture of the prisoner by police caused the unrest,” he said. “The unrest ended so bloodily, we are wondering what to say to Chinese authorities at this time.”
Dolqun Isa said it is time for more transparency from China about this and other incidents.
“At this stage we call on China to disclose information about the incident, rather than keep it secret,” he said. “It is helpful to avoid disturbing rumors and exaggerated information which could trigger ethnic clashes.”
“We also call on international organizations to pay attention the situation of East Turkestan,” he said, using the preferred Uyghur term for the region. “And to send an independent investigative group to look into incidents related to juveniles’ rights and safety.”
Reported by Shohret Hoshur for RFA's Uyghur Service. Translated by Mamatjan Juma and Shohret Hoshur. Written in English by Brooks Boliek.