Chinese authorities have shot dead three Uyghurs who attacked a police station in northwestern China’s restive Xinjiang region, officials said Wednesday, calling the attack an act of “separatism.”
The assault on the Yengieriq town police station in Aksu prefecture’s Awat county is the latest in a string of raids by Uyghurs who exile rights groups say could be retaliating for discrimination by Chinese authorities against the ethnic minority group.
Xuan Xin, the police chief of nearby Dolan town, said that the attack by three young Uyghur men a week ago was being investigated by national security authorities.
“I was not informed about the attackers’ intention, though I’m assuming that they wanted to express their discontent with our government,” he told RFA’s Uyghur Service.
“Like many other previous incidents, this was also likely motivated by separatism,” he said of the Jan. 15 attack, which RFA had learned about following a tip-off.
The three Uyghur men had approached auxiliary guards at the police station complex and asked to meet with the station chief, according to Abdusalam Rozi, a policeman from Dolan.
“The auxiliary policemen who were guarding the door did not let them in, saying that the chief was in a meeting,” he said.
“During the ensuing argument, the guards realized the youths had something around their waists and demanded to search them. As they were about to be searched, the three young men took out sickles from inside their jackets and attacked the guards, injuring two of them.”
Rozi said that during the melee “other police inside the building shot the Uygur youths to death.”
Gao Hai, the vice chief of police in Dolan, said one of the auxiliary guards had been severely injured in the attack.
“They are being treated at the county hospital. One is injured around the waist, while the other's condition is more severe.”
Gao said that the Uyghur youths were from the Qumeriq and Lenger villages of Yengieriq town, but said he did not know their names.
In recent months, dozens of Uyghurs accused by the authorities of terrorism and separatism have been shot dead in lightning raids in Xinjiang, home to some 10 million mostly Muslim Uyghurs.
On Dec. 30, Chinese authorities in Yarkand (in Chinese, Shache) county near the Silk Road city of Kashgar opened fire and killed eight Uyghurs who they said attacked a police station, calling them "terrorists" and "religious extremists."
At least 91 people, including several policemen, have been killed in violence in Xinjiang since April, state media reported.
Rights groups and experts say Beijing exaggerates the terrorism threat to take the heat off domestic policies that cause unrest or to justify the authorities' use of force against Uyghurs.
Enver Molla, a police chief from nearby Tamtoghraq town, told RFA that since last week’s incident “security measures had been increased” in Yengieriq.
But he said that the attack was a “matter of national security” and refused to provide details, referring inquiries to the provincial public security office.
The attack occurred on the same day of the arrest of outspoken Uyghur scholar Ilham Tohti in Beijing which Uyghur rights groups say underscored the Chinese government's increasingly hard-line stance on dissent surrounding Xinjiang.
Tohti, who has been critical of official policy in Xinjiang, was detained on suspicion of "breaking the law," according to the Chinese government,which has come under fire from the United States and the European Union for the action.
Uyghur exile groups say Chinese authorities in Xinjiang have launched a New Year “strike hard” campaign targeting cell phones, computers, religious materials, and other “cultural products” belonging to Uyghurs.
Dilxat Raxit, spokesman for the exile World Uyghur Congress (WUC) group, told RFA recently that the government has been “stepping up these raids, even to the point of armed police shooting Uyghurs who refuse to cooperate and offer some kind of resistance.”
He warned that “any provocation could lead to further violence.”
Meanwhile, the ruling Chinese Communist Party’s Xinjiang chief Zhang Chunxian called Wednesday for ethnic traditions in Xinjiang to be respected.
Zhang said that the government must “treat issues of local tradition with respect and resolve issues of violence with rule of law and severe measures,” Reuters news agency reported, citing his comments in the official Xinjiang Daily.
“[The government] must acknowledge the long-term, acute and complex nature of the anti-separatism and violent terrorism fight,” he said, adding that there is no contradiction between stability and development.
Uyghurs say they have long suffered ethnic discrimination and oppressive religious controls under Beijing’s policies, blaming the problems partly on the influx of Han Chinese into the region.
Reported by Shohret Hoshur for RFA’s Uyghur Service. Translated by Mamatjan Juma. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.