HONG KONG—Authorities in the northwestern Chinese region of Xinjiang have detained several people following clashes in a Uyghur city known as a traditional center of opposition to Beijing’s rule, overseas groups and residents said.
Riot police and uniformed police from the Hanbinxiang district police station surrounded the Golden Apple restaurant in the prefectural capital of Gulja (in Chinese, Yining) last week, an employee at the restaurant said.
"The riot police and the regular police came," he said. "The restaurant had been taken over for a birthday party for two daughters, and they were arresting people in connection with selling drugs."
He said police stormed the building from behind, and detained at least one man and one woman.
"That was a week ago," the employee said.
Dilxat Raxit, spokesman for the Munich-based World Uyghur Congress, said that regular police beat several Uyghurs during the raid on the Golden Apple. When the Uyghurs fought back, the riot police were called in to quell the clashes.
He said around 10 Uyghurs turned over a police car after verbal disputes with police outside in the street.
"The Uyghurs, angry at the police violence, overturned a car and smashed its lights," Raxit said. "The police fired into the air and set off canisters of tear-gas."
Police sealed off the area early in the incident, preventing it from escalating to the rest of the district, he said.
Riot police detained nine Uyghurs, while police from the Yingayati police station detained a further five people, including women who were protesting at the scene.
They were held under administrative detention, which is legal for periods of up to 15 days for minor offenses without trial, for "obstructing the police in the course of their duty."
The municipal authorities also put a news blackout on the city, banning any reporting of the incident, Raxit said.
"I wish to emphasize that since the July 5 [Urumqi unrest of 2009], the authorities in Xinjiang are continuing their oppressive policies, and giving free rein to the police," he said.
"They have special powers to detain and investigate Uyghurs."
"This violent incident that took place in Gulja last week, involving the beating of Uyghurs, was subject to a strict information blackout," Raxit added.
An officer who answered the phone at the Hanbinxiang police station said he had no knowledge of the incident, and declined to comment.
An officer who answered the phone at the Gulja municipal police station on Wednesday denied the incident had taken place, or that any Uyghurs were detained last week.
Many Uyghurs, who twice enjoyed short-lived independence as the state of East Turkestan during the 1930s and 40s, are bitterly opposed to Beijing’s rule in Xinjiang.
Mass unrest in the city in 1997 resulted in a crackdown in Gulja that went largely unnoticed by the outside world, overseas rights groups say.
The city has been a focus, even before the ethnic violence in Urumqi left at least 197 people dead in July 2009, of "strike hard" campaigns targeting Uyghurs, often in the name of anti-terrorism operations.
International rights groups have accused Beijing of using the U.S. “war on terror” to crack down on nonviolent supporters of Uyghur independence.
Beijing blames Uyghur separatists for sporadic bombings and other violence in the Xinjiang region.
Original reporting in Cantonese by Hai Nan. Cantonese service director: Shiny Li. Translated from the Chinese and written for the Web in English by Luisetta Mudie. Edited by Sarah Jackson-Han.