Police in northwestern China’s restive Xinjiang region shot and killed as many as seven ethnic Uyghurs who had been “acting suspiciously” while they gathered at a restaurant earlier this week, official sources said Friday, prompting a security clampdown.
The incident drew immediate condemnation from the Munich-based World Uyghur Congress (WUC) exile group, which expressed concern that authorities had restricted access to information about the killings.
Tursun Qurban, the security chairman of Jumebaza village, near where the incident took place late on March 9 in Hotan (in Chinese, Hetian) prefecture’s Qaraqash (Moyu) county, told RFA’s Uyghur Service that four police officers from a county-level state security unit were investigating the men when the shooting occurred.
He said police asked for the identification of the seven Uyghurs who were gathered at the Sherbet restaurant at a hotel in Purchaqchi township—where several incidents have resulted in bloodshed in recent months—and then attempted to search them, but were met with resistance, sparking the clash.
“One police officer was killed with a knife, two suspects were shot to death on the spot, two were arrested, and three others escaped,” he said.
Qurban said that within half an hour, more than 200 police and SWAT officers had been mobilized and surrounded the area for about two hours, but were unable to track down the three escapees.
An additional 20 local reserve officers and 50 farmers were appointed to stand watch at other locations in the vicinity, but had also turned up nothing, he said.
“Right now, in every corner of our village, there are police searching [homes] for strangers. Before, we used to require search warrants, but this time we don’t even need them,” Qurban said.
“I don’t know who we are searching for or why. From the number of gunshots I can only assume that this is a big case, so I am standing watch with 78 farmers at road blocks and searching homes.”
The WUC cited sources in a statement released Friday as saying that Chinese police killed three of the men inside the restaurant, while another four were “shot and killed by police outside shortly following,” though the group was unable to independently verify the information.
Suspects were monitored
Abla Ahat, police chief of Purchaqchi township, told RFA that five of the suspects came from Nawagh township in Hotan city and were met by the other two men from Manglay township at the Sherbet restaurant.
“The county state security forces had been watching them for some time, so I went with them to capture the suspects,” Ahat said.
“When we arrived, they resisted our attempt to search them and then this bloody incident occurred.”
Memet Abdulla, the ruling Chinese Communist Party secretary of Purchaqchi’s Kokeriq village, said the incident occurred around 500 meters (1,640 feet) from his office.
“When these things happen, the authorities always call the local police officers to respond, but this time they told us ‘an incident occurred, do not go out, stay inside’,” he said.
“We heard continuous gunshots. But it was only the following day that we were able to learn anything about what happened.”
Purchaqchi township hospital head Bahargul told RFA that local authorities had ordered him to report any patients seeking treatment for bullet wounds on the day of the shooting.
“We didn’t receive anybody suffering from that type of injury that day,” he said.
“However, the next day, police shot three farmers in a case of mistaken identity and I was called to join the rescue mission. In the end, they were taken to the county hospital because their conditions were so severe, but I don’t know if they have stabilized.”
Call for investigation
The WUC on Friday called on the international community to undertake an independent investigation into the shootings in Purchaqchi, noting that residents in the area had been warned by authorities to remain silent about the incident and to ensure that they don’t disclose any information to the media.
“We therefore call on all journalists working in China as well as those in the international community to pay closer attention to the most recent events that continue to go unreported,” the statement said.
The WUC said this week’s shooting marked the fifth bloody incident in the same location this year alone and the sixth in Xinjiang in just the last month.
Last month, sources told RFA that a Uyghur farmer on his way to work in the fields was shot and killed by police in Purchaqchi’s Bashquduqla village on Feb. 16 after he pulled a knife on officers attempting to detain him for acting “suspicious.”
Hotan has frequently been the scene of violent clashes between the ethnic, mostly Muslim Uyghurs and Chinese security forces, with attacks coming amid a string of assaults and bombings across Xinjiang, sources say.
In July, unidentified assailants armed with axes and knives attacked a Qaraqash county official and his wife in apparent retaliation for a police raid on a local mosque, killing the woman and leaving the man badly injured, sources said.
Reported by Shohret Hoshur for RFA’s Uyghur Service. Translated by Mamatjan Juma. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.