A Uyghur fruit-seller was shot and seriously wounded this week by police following an argument with an urban management enforcement guard in the capital of China's troubled Xinjiang region, according to police and residents Wednesday.
Police confirmed that the incident occurred in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region capital Urumqi's Akkowuk (in Chinese, Nanmen) district on Monday but refused to provide details, including the identity of the ethnic Uyghur man, believed to be in his 20s, or the circumstances in which the shooting occurred.
"The man is in critical condition in the People's Second Hospital," a policeman who spent a day with him in hospital as part of security procedures told RFA's Uyghur Service.
“When I was leaving hospital, he was still alive, I am not sure how he is now—whether he's dead or alive,” said the policeman, identifying himself only as Mutellip.
According to two Urumqi residents, one of whom was an eyewitness, the shooting was triggered by a longstanding quarrel the man had with an official from the urban management enforcement unit or "chengguan" who wanted him to relocate from the spot where he had been selling fruit in the local bazaar.
"You always want me to move away from my spot, but give me an alternate site where I can sell my fruit," the man was overheard telling the enforcement official before an argument broke out and police were summoned to the scene, the eyewitness told RFA, speaking on condition of anonymity.
The eyewitness, who works for the local government tax office, did not say why police shot the man, who was seen armed with a long knife which he used to cut the watermelons he was selling.
Police confirmed that photos of the incident, captured by an anonymous eyewitness using a cellphone, have been circulating on the Internet since the incident occurred.
One online photo showed a policeman pointing a pistol at the fruit-seller and another showed him on the ground surrounded by People's Armed Police personnel and the policeman, apparently after he was shot.
Turghunjan Tursun, deputy chief of the Akkowuk police station, confirmed that the fruit-seller was shot by police but declined to provide details.
"You have to call the senior people for the details," he said, adding that the case is being handled by the intelligence unit of the Tianshan District police department.
A top police officer who answered the phone at the station said reporters wanting to get more information about the incident should go personally to the station.
An Urumqi resident with knowledge of the incident said the government had issued a brief internal memo informing recipients that the fruit-seller was shot because he "violated the law by obstructing police on duty."
He said that he was told that the authorities were giving priority to finding out who posted the photos on the Internet instead of investigating the shooting incident.
Xinjiang is the home of the ethnic minority Muslim Uyghurs, who say they are being discriminated against by Chinese authorities who usually blame outbreaks of violence in the region on "terrorists" among the Uyghur community.
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 Shohret Hoshur for RFA's Uyghur Service. Translated by Dolkun Kamberi. Written in English by Parameswaran Ponnudurai.