Seven ethnic minority Uyghurs have been shot dead by police in separate clashes in China's restive northwestern region of Xinjiang and nine others detained for protesting against some of the killings, an exile Uyghur group said on Monday.
The shootings underscore a trend of increasing violence in Xinjiang, where the Muslim Uyghurs complain of discrimination and religious controls under Beijing’s rule.
Four died after police in Yarkand (in Chinese, Shache) county, which is administered by the Silk Road city of Kashgar, opened fire on a group of Uyghurs in a private residence last Thursday after suspecting them of "illegal assembly," the Munich-based World Uyghur Congress said.
"At around 6.00 p.m. on the evening of Oct. 3, armed personnel surrounded a residence in Abu Dona Village No. 16 and accused [the occupants] of illegal assembly," the group's Sweden-based spokesman Dilxat Raxit said in an interview on Monday.
"They opened fire, killing four Uyghurs," he said.
The incident came after police opened fire on Uyghurs at a railway station and in a village in the same county during the previous week, Raxit said.
He said police had previously shot dead two residents of Abu Dona Village No. 29 on Sept. 26.
"And on Sept. 28, the police fired on suspects at Yarkand railway station, killing one Uyghur.
Police decline comment
He said nine Uyghurs were also detained after they marched to the Yarkand county government offices on the Oct. 1 National Day holiday to protest the earlier killings.
An official who answered the phone at the Yarkand county government offices said he had no knowledge of the incident.
"I don't know [about this]," the official said. "I'm just the duty officer."
Calls to the Yarkand county police department and the railway station police station went unanswered during office hours on Monday.
An officer who answered the phone at another police station near the railway station said he hadn't heard about the incident.
"I don't know about this incident," he said, and declined to answer further questions.
Monitoring stepped up
Raxit said Kashgar had been the scene of a number of violent clashes in the past year, after which the authorities had stepped up close monitoring of Muslim, Turkic-speaking Uyghurs in the area.
"Nine Uyghurs from Abu Dona village had planned to go to the Chinese government in protest on Oct. 1, but they were detained by security personnel in military uniform," he said.
"Of the nine people, six were women, three were men."
"China has implemented a series of oppressive measures in the region for some time, and uses excessive military force, leading to the deaths and injuries of Uyghurs," Raxit said.
"They also detain people whenever they feel like it and shoot people dead, after which they cover up the incident and impose an information blackout on the area to prevent the news from getting out."
"The Uyghurs wanted to protest about this, but they were themselves subjected to military oppression," he added.
A Yarkand resident who asked to remain anonymous said police had set up checkpoints in the area and were checking people's identity cards every time they left their homes.
"They check your ID card everywhere, at any time," he said.
On Aug. 23, authorities in Kashgar's Poskam county (in Chinese, Zepu) shot dead up to a dozen Uyghurs and injured 20 others during a raid on an alleged training camp and munitions center operated by a group of about 30 Uyghurs.
The raid came just three days after authorities in Kashgar's Kargilik (in Chinese, Yecheng) county gunned down 22 Uyghurs during another "anti-terrorism" operation on Aug. 20 while they were praying in a house at the edge of a desert area.
Chinese authorities usually blame outbreaks of violence in Xinjiang on "terrorists" among the region's ethnic minority Muslim Uyghurs.
But rights groups and experts say Beijing exaggerates the terrorism threat to take the heat off domestic policies that cause unrest or to justify the authorities' use of force against Uyghurs.
Reported by Qiao Long for RFA's Mandarin Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.