Authorities shot dead two Uyghurs allegedly behind weekend violence in Xinjiang in a bid to explicitly warn members of the ethnic minority group questioning Chinese rule in the northwestern region, analysts said.
The government in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region posted a notice on its website Tuesday that police killed suspects Memtieli Tiliwaldi, 29, and Tursun Hesen, 34, on Monday as they fled and hid in a cornfield on the outskirts of the city of Kashgar, where the violence took place.
They were among seven Uyghurs killed by police who had accused them of staging bloody attacks near a shopping center and food market in Kashgar that left nine people dead in among the worst violence this year in the volatile region.
Despite having the opportunity to capture the two men alive, Chinese authorities opted to kill them on the spot to reinforce a message to Uyghurs in the region that resistance to Chinese rule would not be tolerated, analysts said.
Ilyar Shemseddin, a Uyghur analyst based in Virginia outside Washington, said members of the Han Chinese majority do not view Uyghurs as Chinese citizens and, instead, treat them like “foreign forces.”
“The attackers were armed with just knives, while the state forces were armed with an assortment of weapons and armor. It was fully possible to capture them without killing them,” Shemseddin, a former vice president of the U.S.-based Uyghur American Association, said.
“If China really accepted these Uyghurs as Chinese citizens, they should have captured them without firing their weapons and charged them through the judiciary process,” he said.
The violence came two weeks after a group of Uyghurs raided a police station in nearby Hotan city that resulted in the deaths of 20 people.
Shemseddin said the Uyghurs believed behind the Hotan attacks were also shot on the spot in a demonstration of excessive force.
Chinese intellectual Zheng Xianli also criticized the police solution to the Hotan incident in an article published on the Chinese website Boxun.com.
“There were no powerful weapons in their hands. The police could have conquered the attackers without killing them,” Zheng said.
“If the attackers were captured and put through the judicial system, it could have proved more helpful to the state in identifying the reason behind the attack,” he said, adding that the 90 minutes used to end the standoff was “too short.”
Following the Kashgar violence, authorities had issued a reward of 100,000 yuan (U.S. $15,500) for the two men who were believed to have fled the scene of Sunday’s attack on a restaurant in the city that left the owner and waiter dead and destroyed the building in a fire.
Kashgar prefecture communist party chief Cheng Zhenshan vowed Tuesday to fight “separatists, religious extremists, and terrorists" with "iron fists.”
Chinese officials quickly blamed the Kashgar attack on Uyghur Islamic militants campaigning for an independent homeland, and said the ringleaders received training in making firearms and explosives at camps run by the East Turkistan Islamic Movement (ETIM) in Pakistan before returning to China.
On Thursday, China’s top police official, Security Minister Meng Jianzhu, warned that "criminals who dare to test the law and commit violent terrorist acts will be shown no leniency, no appeasement, and no soft heart."
Another Uyghur political analyst living in Virginia, Ilshat Hasan, said the police killing of the two suspects showed that the authorities treat Uyghurs as “second-class citizens.”
“China always claims that the ethnic problem is an internal issue and they warn other states and organizations not to intervene … every time [Beijing] encounters such incidents they deal with [the perpetrators] as members of an insurgent army, not as their own citizens,” Hasan said.
“If they truly saw them as their own citizens, they would likely be more patient, try to listen to what they want, and charge them by law.”
Hassan said authorities want to send a message to the Uyghur community that they will not negotiate on issues of rights and that they should obey Chinese rule without question.
This uncompromising stand has driven Uygurs to desperate retaliatory attacks, he said.
“That is why the attacks occur continuously, even when [the Uyghurs] know clearly that they cannot overcome police with the knives they carry.”
The analysts cited previous incidents around the Xinjiang region in which excessive force was also used.
In 2009, one week after ethnic violence left some 200 people dead in the Xinjiang capital of Urumqi, three Uyghur men attacked a police squad on the streets of Dongkowruk. Police shot and killed all three.
In August 2008, Chinese armed police shot and killed six Uyghurs, including one woman, suspected of having carried out an attack in Yamanyar, while they hid in a cornfield outside of Kashgar.
Show of strength
Alimjan Inayet, a Uyghur professor at Ege University in Izmir, Turkey, said that in each of these cases, the suspects could have been allowed to surrender.
“By such hostile actions, China wants to show Uyghurs the strength of the government in full view of many people. This is not an indication of power. On the contrary, it shows the weakness of the state,” he said.
Inayet said there had been no official investigations into the use of excessive force by security forces on Uyghurs.
“Of course you cannot expect an investigation into the use of excessive force from a police force whose leader has called the situation in Xinjiang a ‘life and death struggle for the citizens,’” Inayet said, quoting a speech by former Xinjiang party chief Wang Lequan.
Exiled Uyghur leader Rebiya Kader compared the police action against the Uyghurs in the Kashgar cornfield to the July 22 bombing and shooting massacre in Norway that left 77 people dead and in which the perpetrator was captured alive.
“At the tragic incident in Norway, police did not kill the suspect. It was completely possible: he had weapons and he had killed a lot of people,” she said.
“If you look at the two Uyghur suspects—what they were armed with and what they did—and compare what happened to the incident in Norway, this shows that China has a lot of ground to cover before it can become a state of law.”
Reported and translated by Shohret Hoshur for RFA’s Uyghur service. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.