Parents of Muslim Uyghur students in northwestern China are calling for an apology and compensation to cover medical expenses after their children were hospitalized in an attack by Han Chinese schoolmates that some say was racially motivated.
On Oct. 14, Han Chinese children at the Karamay No. 2 High School in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region’s Karamay city set upon their Uyghur peers with sticks as Han teachers stood by, leaving scores in need of medical attention, witnesses said.
Days after the attack, more than 100 Uyghur parents gathered to march to the municipal government office demanding segregated education for their children, but police dispersed the group and officials have downplayed charges that ethnic tensions were to blame for the incident.
Ablimit Hesen, a prosecutor for the Karamay District Supreme Court and the parent of a girl injured in the attack, presented a list of demands to local authorities calling for the Han Chinese students and their parents to issue an official apology and to compensate the Uyghur students for medical costs.
Uyghur parents also sought an official investigation into the event while requiring that school administrators punish those responsible and devise a plan to prevent similar incidents from taking place.
“The most important parts [of our demands]—the apology and the financial punishment—have not been addressed yet,” Ablimit Hesen said.
The secretary of the ruling Chinese Community Party committee at the Karamay city education department, surnamed Yu, told RFA that school director Rahman Rozi and party secretary Wu Liping had both been suspended and temporarily replaced by Rifat Memet and Asiye Kurban, respectively.
But while administrative action was taken over the incident, officials have sought to minimize suggestions that the attack was prompted by ethnic hatred.
An official at the Karamay municipal education bureau had confirmed earlier that the fighting had taken place, but said the ethnicity of the participants was irrelevant.
"It's normal for schoolchildren to fight," the official said. "There is no so-called political issue here, no ethnic problem to hook it to."
Uyghurs in Karamay city have been comparing the event to the Shaoguan incident—a violent dispute in which Han Chinese attacked their migrant Uyghur coworkers while supervisors observed at a Guangdong-based toy factory in 2009. Two people died and some 118 were injured.
That attack is widely cited as the trigger for ethnic riots in the Xinjiang capital of Urumqi weeks later which left 200 mostly Han Chinese dead and thousands injured, according to official estimates.
Aynigar Ablet, a 13-year-old victim of the Karamay incident, said that she and many of her friends were still recuperating from their injuries and had been unable to attend school for more than a month.
“I was in the hospital for two weeks. Now, I’m still at home—I haven’t recovered yet from being beaten with sticks,” she said.
Aynigar Ablet said that “more than 100” Uyghur students had been injured in the attack and that all of them were taken to hospital, including her friends, Nusire Ablimit and Nazaket Ilghar, who suffered serious injuries.
Nusire Ablimit said she was unable to return to school until Nov. 16, one month after the incident.
“That day, at the beginning of the fight, many of the girls were afraid to leave the classroom—we simply watched from the window,” she said.
“But I could no longer bear to watch when I saw the Uyghur boys laying on the ground while the Han students continued to beat them and the Han teachers stood by and did nothing.”
Nusire Ablimit said that she and the other Uyghur girls ran out to the courtyard to protect the boys, who were unarmed, by covering them with their bodies and shielding them from the blows.
“The Han teachers not only were spectators to the event, they also let the students involved in the fight escape while the investigators were on their way to the school,” she said.
“I caught one of the Han boys for the investigators as he was trying to leave the school with his teacher’s help.”
Acting-party secretary of the school Asiye Kurban told RFA that the attack was not simply the result of a fight that got out of control.
“There were deeper and more complicated reasons behind the incident,” she said, though she declined to elaborate on what those factors were.
“Education in school is not enough to prevent such events—family education is also vital in seeking to harmonize relations between these two ethnic groups across two generations. All of the parents involved should teach their children the values of tolerance and multiculturalism.”
But a witness to the attack, who requested anonymity, said the reasons behind it were racially motivated.
“If you look at the incident from an outsider’s perspective, the reasons seem to be so simple: a few students argued with each other and the next day it became a big fight,” the witness said.
“But if you look in terms of the relationship of the two ethnicities, it appears to be another example of the Shaoguan incident.”
The parent of a child who was injured in the attack said that while life in Karamay appeared to be getting back to normal, ethnic tensions were running as high as ever.
“Yes, it is true that no one died … and the school is running regularly, but the ethnic hatred and resentment which caused the incident remains and was covered up by officials,” the parent said.
“We don’t know what will happen to our children next time.”
Reported by Shohret Hoshur for RFA’s Uyghur service. Translated by Shohret Hoshur. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.