Authorities in northwestern China’s restive Xinjiang region have shot dead seven ethnic Uyghurs who hacked a local armed forces commander and two members of his family to death, as well as a security guard who came to their aid, near the Silk Road city of Kashgar, according to local sources.
Police in Kashgar's Yarkand (in Chinese, Shache) county are investigating the March 8 attack in the county seat which killed Tagharchi township People's Armed Police department head Fang Kezheng, 40, his wife and her uncle, and Uyghur security guard Batur Memet, 33, sources said.
Turap Emet, police chief of Yarkand’s Igerchi township, told RFA's Uyghur Service he had received confirmation of the attack from county authorities.
“That evening, Fan Kezheng, his wife, his daughter and his wife’s uncle were returning to their home from a restaurant in the Yarkand county township bazaar and as they walked towards their car, parked in front of the former armed forces department, they were suddenly attacked on the road,” he said.
According to Emet, the attackers surprised Fang, who was wearing a uniform, and he did not have time to react or draw his gun.
“Four of the seven attackers slashed Fang, killing him, while the other three chased after his wife and her uncle, and hacked them to death,” he said.
“For some reason, they spared Fang’s daughter ... but they killed Batur Memet, who had run towards the scene of the attack [to assist Fang’s family].”
Emet said police arrived at the scene around 10 minutes after the attack and quickly engaged the assailants, killing them in a hail of bullets.
A nurse from the Yarkand County People’s Hospital, who spoke to RFA on condition of anonymity, said one Uyghur and three Han Chinese bystanders were shot by police in the confrontation and were brought by authorities to her facility for medical treatment.
“All of them were injured by bullets,” she said, without specifying what condition the four were in.
“It appeared as if the police were shooting indiscriminately in order to secure the situation quickly, so four people in the area were wounded.”
Rahman Obul, the social stability chairman of the local Yarkand county township government, told RFA that all of the attackers were from Yarkand’s Beshkent township, where he said a Uyghur woman had been shot and killed by police in an incident days before the attack on Fang and his family.
“Fang Kezheng was among the police [involved in the Beshkent shooting],” he said, without providing details of the incident.
“Was Fang Kezheng targeted because he played an active role in that campaign? … We cannot know, because all of the attackers [in the March 8 incident] were killed by police.”
He noted that Fang’s nine-year-old daughter had been spared in the attack, and called the case “strange,” adding that it was currently under investigation by local authorities.
China's ruling Communist Party, which is running a region-wide anti-terror crackdown in Xinjiang, has so far made no official comment on the incident.
Dilxat Raxit, spokesman for the Germany-based World Uyghur Congress (WUC) told RFA's Mandarin Service that the incident, which took place during a politically sensitive parliamentary session in Beijing last week, had been kept out of China's tightly controlled media.
He said local sources told the WUC that “some of the injured” were being treated at the Yarkand County People’s Hospital, but “the actual figures of deaths and injuries are unclear.”
“It is my understanding that the injured all had some direct connection to the police force,” he said, without elaborating.
Repeated calls to local government offices, a high school and local businesses in Fang’s home township of Tagharchi were immediately cut off after being contacted for comment or confirmation.
Local residents said all of Yarkand county had been offline since the death of two Uyghur officials during a riot in late July last year, but that police patrols and identity checks had been increased in the county's town center in recent weeks.
“We can't get online in Yarkand county, and there are roadside checks on people's identity,” an employee at a guesthouse in the town center said.
Earlier this week, police shot dead four ethnic minority Uyghurs who carried out a knife attack on a group of Han Chinese outside the popular Chess Room casino in western Xinjiang's Kashgar (in Chinese, Kashi) city, local sources told RFA's Uyghur Service Monday.
The reports of the March 12 attack, in which police wounded another two Uyghurs, emerged in spite of a tight media clampdown on the region during the annual meeting of China's National People's Congress (NPC).
"The government doesn't report what's going on over in Kashgar," a resident of the Xinjiang capital Urumqi told RFA on Tuesday. "There is often very little unofficial information to come out of there, either."
"People who witness incidents in Xinjiang won't dare to talk about them if the government hasn't reported them," the resident said.
He said the authorities immediately seal off areas affected by such incidents, preventing travel in and out of the security cordon.
Beijing last year intensified its targeting of Uyghurs with an "anti-terror" campaign in the troubled northwestern region of Xinjiang, Amnesty International said in its annual global human rights report.
The campaign prompted further restrictions on Uyghurs' practice of Islam, on top of existing widespread discrimination in employment, education, housing and curtailed religious freedom, as well as political marginalization, the group said.
As many as 700 people are believed to have been killed in political violence that rocked northwestern China's Xinjiang region from 2013-2014, with ethnic Uyghurs three times as likely as Han Chinese to have lost their lives in clashes, the Washington-based Uyghur Human Rights Project (UHRP) reported earlier this month.
Chinese state-controlled media reported less than a third of the clashes that took place in the reporting period, and described more than two-thirds of the 37 incidents it did report on as "terrorist" events, UHRP said.
Many Uyghurs living in China and in exile refer to Xinjiang as East Turkestan, as the region came under final control by China only following two short-lived East Turkestan republics in the 1930s and 1940s.
Reported by Shohret Hoshur for RFA's Uyghur Service, by Qiao Long for the Mandarin Service, and by Wei Ling for the Cantonese Service. Translated by Luisetta Mudie and Mamatjan Juma. Written in English by Luisetta Mudie and Joshua Lipes.