Uyghur police officers who die while serving in northwestern China’s troubled Xinjiang region are being hailed as “heroes” in an apparent bid by authorities to promote the ethnic minority group’s loyalty to Beijing, sources say.
Many of those named in a report released this month by China’s Ministry of Public Security were not killed in the line of duty, though, but died in traffic or drowning accidents or of heart attacks while under stress and in poor health, sources said.
The report, published on April 1 on the Ministry website and titled “Our Heroes,” lists 33 fallen officers, including 16 Uyghurs, 15 Han Chinese, one ethnic Hui, and one ethnic Kazakh. All are further described in the online document as “revolutionary martyrs.”
Uyghur observers in the region and in exile questioned the motivation behind the list’s publication, though, with some saying they had never heard of the officers named and others calling the listing “strange.”
“I see nothing heroic in this list,” a Uyghur resident of Virginia and former university lecturer named Uchqunjan told RFA’s Uyghur Service.
“How can you describe as a ‘hero’ someone who has died of illness in a hospital, and who was not killed in battle or during a police operation?” he asked.
“This is a very strange list,” he said.
Need for heroes
China’s ruling Communist Party needs new heroes to hold up as examples to the Chinese people, Uchqunjan said, “and the stories of true heroes like [democracy activist] Liu Xiaobo and [jailed Uyghur professor] Ilham Tohti are too threatening to party rule.”
“Therefore, they fabricate these stories to create new examples,” he said.
Reached by RFA, residents, officials, and police officers in Xinjiang said they had never heard of many of the policemen described as heroes in the Ministry report.
One of the officers listed as a “revolutionary martyr,” Abduqadir Abdukerim, was said to have come from Tashimiliq township in Xinjiang’s Toqquzag (in Chinese, Shufu) county. But when reporters contacted township residents, no one seemed to know who he was.
“We are supposed to know about such ‘heroes’ who have died for their country,” township resident Eli Abdurehim told RFA.
“At least I am supposed to know about them, because it is my job to promote patriotism among the residents of my village.”
“I think you have been misinformed about this,” he said.
No questions asked
Another township resident, a police officer, said that he had known Abdukerim, but that the man had been transferred before his death to serve with the county police.
“About two or three months ago, I heard that he had died, but I never heard anything about the cause of death,” he said.
“These days, we do not ask questions about these things, because we have been ordered not to spread rumors or to publicize the negative side of our work,” he said.
Uyghur policemen meanwhile often find themselves concerned over the conduct of armed operations, in which they are usually forced ahead of their Han Chinese counterparts when confronting armed militants, a former Uyghur police officer now living in Turkey said.
“If you expose your real feelings about these incidents, you will come to the attention of the [Chinese] state security police,” the officer, named Yolwas, said.
“This will not be good for you or for your children,” Yolwas said.
Rights groups accuse Chinese authorities of heavy-handed rule in Xinjiang, including violent police raids on Uyghur households, restrictions on Islamic practices, and curbs on the culture and language of the Uyghur people.
China has vowed to crack down on what it calls the “three evils” of terrorism, separatism, and religious extremism in Xinjiang.
But experts outside China say Beijing has exaggerated the threat from Uyghur separatists, and that domestic policies are responsible for an upsurge in violence that has left hundreds dead since 2012.
Reported and translated by Shohret Hoshur for RFA’s Uyghur Service. Written in English by Richard Finney.