More than 20 ethnic minority Uyghurs have been reported missing in China’s northwestern Xinjiang region following a police crackdown launched after a Uyghur man went on a bloody rampage, according to residents.
One Han Chinese was believed killed and several others were wounded when the man attacked a group of people with a pair of shears in the streets of Kashgar city in the western part of the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region earlier this month.
Residents of Doletbagh township, where the attack occurred, said the incident was likely ethnically charged.
Police rounded up more than 50 people in connection with the case, and though many were released soon after, more than 20 remain unaccounted for, raising concerns among human rights groups about their safety.
“More than 20 guys aged 18-25 in our community disappeared after the Dec. 3 scissor attack, but the families are scared to talk about the detention of their children because they have been warned by the police to stay silent,” a schoolteacher who is a Doletbagh resident told RFA.
“Some of the detainees were high school students,” he said.
The teacher said that a number of the attacker’s family members were taken into custody by the police from their homes in different locations around Kashgar.
“I heard that police detained the attacker’s three brothers in [nearby] Yopurgha county and two brothers-in-law in Kashgar city,” he said.
An officer at the Doletbagh police station confirmed the detentions in a telephone interview.
“Yes, more than 50 people in Doletbagh township were detained for an investigation related to the case, but most of them were released within the first three days,” the officer said.
He refused to provide any details about the detainees in the case.
Police in Xinjiang have been known to detain relatives, friends, and others with connections to suspects in investigations both to seek out people who may have similar motives and to send a message to the community that they should not interact with people who “operate outside of the law.”
Residents and local authorities in Doletbagh confirmed that a Uyghur man attacked a group of Han Chinese on Dec. 3.
A woman who works at the front desk of Kashgar’s Wenzhou Hotel said the attack occurred “only a few kilometers away from our hotel.”
“A Uyghur man armed with shears attacked Han bystanders on the street. One of them died and a few others were injured.”
But the chief of a police station in Kashgar said no one was killed in the attack.
“Only one person was severely injured. Our team immediately took him to the hospital and he has nearly recovered,” the police chief said.
“The attacker was captured on the spot and now the case is under investigation by the relevant department,” he said, declining to elaborate further.
Abdurahman Sayit, the chief of Doletbagh township, also confirmed the attack.
“What I know is the attacker was middle-aged—around 40 years old—and from Yopurgha county. He wasn’t a resident of our town,” he said.
“The panic that gripped the public following the attack has already dissipated. Everything is back to normal in our town now.”
Personnel at Kashgar’s city police department, which oversees the nearly 20 police stations in the urban center, refused to comment about the attack.
‘What can they do?’
This month’s scissor attack is the latest in a series of stabbings that have occurred in Kashgar this year.
On April 18, a young Uyghur attacked a group of Han Chinese in the city, injuring six. The assailant killed himself by cutting his own throat as police closed in on him.
Just four days later, another knife-wielding Uyghur attacked and killed a 39-year-old Han woman.
And on July 30 and July 31, at least 14 people were killed and 40 others injured in two separate attacks against Han Chinese in Kashgar by two small groups of Uyghurs armed with knives.
According to a Uyghur businessman who works in Kashgar, Uyghurs were no longer allowed to carry the traditional knives they keep on them after the July attacks, which is why the Uyghur in Doletbagh used a pair of shears.
“If he had carried a knife, he would have drawn attention from the Han Chinese and would have been detained by police before reaching the crowd he planned to attack,” the businessman said.
“These days the Han immigrants [to Xinjiang] have almost become like police officers. They watch your hands, they look at your hand bag, and they are ready to call the police if any movement draws their suspicion. I wonder how long we can live together under such circumstances,” he said.
Doletbagh is a small town located in the southeast part of Kashgar with a population of about 14,000, 97 percent of which is Uyghur. But despite making up such a small minority, most of the jobs there are taken by Han Chinese, according to Uyghur groups in exile.
“The cause of the attack was clear to everybody who lives in the city,” the businessman said.
“The people’s bread has been taken, their homes were demolished, and their future is completely bleak. What can they do?”
Reported by Shohret Hoshur for RFA’s Uyghur service. Translated by Shohret Hoshur. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.