A Uyghur judicial official and five Han Chinese businessmen have been murdered in separate incidents in China’s troubled western Xinjiang region, local officials said this week, blaming a group of ethnic minority Muslim Uyghur suspects for the brutal slayings.
Nurmemet Rozi, 37, the director of a township level justice department, was killed on July 18 when he was tracking down the identities of Uyghurs who had attended special prayers during the holy month of Ramadan at a village mosque in Aktokay township in Uchturpan (in Chinese, Wushi) county in Xinjiang’s Aksu prefecture, the officials said.
The five Han Chinese businessmen were stabbed to death after the suspects waylaid their car in Aksu city on July 12, they said.
Chinese state media has not reported the two incidents so far, possibly to prevent the suspects from fleeing the prefecture or to avoid undue publicity that could deter Han Chinese from taking up jobs in Xinjiang, the homeland of the Turkic-speaking Uyghurs, local residents said.
Beijing has launched an anti-terror campaign to contain escalating violence blamed on Uyghur separatists in Xinjiang, where many Uyghurs complain of repression by the Chinese authorities and say the influx of majority Han Chinese threatens their culture and livelihood.
Rozi was stabbed “while he was on duty in front of the mosque in No. 7 village” in Aktokay township, Dao Shunying, an official at the township, told RFA’s Uyghur Service when asked to confirm accounts by residents in the area.
“Yes the incident occurred on July 18, around 11pm-12am,” Dao said.
Trying to identify
Local officials said Rozi was trying to identify Uyghurs who were attending special prayers at a mosque during the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan which ended on July 27 amid suspicion by the officials that religious extremists were behind a spate of bombings and other violence in Xinjiang in recent months.
Ekber Jumaq, the chief of No. 7 Village, said Rozi was murdered possibly because residents were angry with him for putting the mosque-goers into trouble or because he was driving the same vehicle used by police officers.
“The attackers might have thought that Rozi had a gun and wanted to take away his gun, but actually he does not carry a gun,” he said.
Jumaq said police had identified two Uyghurs—Sulaiman Tohti and Abdurehim Abdulla—as the murder suspects.
They were among nine suspects on the run after also being linked to the killing of the five Han Chinese businessmen as well as another murder, which has already been reported, involving six Han farmers in Uchturpan, the official said.
The suspects had placed beams on the road in a bid to force the five businessmen to come out of their car to investigate, local officials and residents said.
“When they came out and tried to remove the beams, five to six suspects stabbed them to death,” one resident said.
Mehmut Yasin, the chief of No. 6 village, which borders the area where Rozi was killed, said the justice department official was taken out of his car to a nearby ditch where he was slashed in the head and had his throat slit.
He said the way he was murdered was similar to the killings of the Han Chinese businessmen and farmers.
“In all three incidents, the attackers first slash their victims in the head and then cut their throat,” Yasin said. “So, we were told to be more vigilant and be prepared for more potential attacks,” he said.
Hundreds have died in violence in Xinjiang over the past year, but amid the tight security measures taken by Chinese authorities, foreign media groups say it’s almost impossible for journalists to make independent assessments.
In the latest violence to rock the remote region, Chinese state media said this week that 96 people were killed in July 28 riots which erupted after a “gang” of Uyghurs attacked a police station and government offices in Kashgar prefecture’s Yarkand (in Chinese, Shache) county, and that the authorities reacted with “a resolute crackdown to eradicate terrorists.”
However, Rebiya Kadeer, president of the exile World Uyghur Congress (WUC), accused authorities of a cover up of what she called a “massacre” of Uyghurs in Yarkand and claimed that at least 2,000 Uyghurs may have been killed by Chinese security forces following the riots.
Chinese authorities have blamed “separatists” from Xinjiang for a series of attacks which have expanded in scale and sophistication over the last year.
Reported by Shohret Hoshur for RFA’s Uyghur Service. Translated by Shohret Hoshur. Written in English by Parameswaran Ponnudurai.