The ethnic Han Chinese head of a township in northwestern China’s Xinjiang region was stabbed to death earlier this month by a young minority Uyghur man, prompting a security clampdown in the area, local residents and officials said Wednesday.
The head of Layqa township, in Hotan (in Chinese, Hetian) prefecture’s Hotan county, was killed on May 15 in an attack by a knife-wielding Uyghur, who was apprehended by authorities later that night, the sources told RFA’s Uyghur Service.
A staff member of the Layqa government’s electricity management office said the township head, who was surnamed Wang, was targeted just after 5:00 p.m. as he left his office to eat dinner at a local restaurant.
“Suddenly, a Uyghur youth appeared and attacked him with a knife,” the staff member said.
“Wang died on the spot, and the Uyghur youth fled. I heard that he was detained by the police that night between 12:00 a.m. and 1:00 a.m.”
The staff member said that according to local residents, the attacker was a 20-year-old single man, though he and others who spoke to RFA said his motive was unclear.
“I don’t know why [the Uyghur man] attacked the township head,” he said, directing further inquiries to the local police station.
According to the staff member, “police and security forces are strictly patrolling Layqa” since the attack occurred, while “the local authorities have organized night guards to protect the security of Han Chinese government staff and residents.”
“The township party secretary ordered every government staff member to serve 24-hour shifts since the incident—I am just now serving my duty as a guard this evening,” he said.
“Neither government employees nor local farmers have any time to relax these days.”
A Uyghur officer who answered the phone at the Layqa police station confirmed that the stabbing incident occurred, but refused to provide details.
“The attacker has already been detained, but we cannot give any detailed information,” he said, adding that officers “have no right to speak with journalists” and referring further inquiries to either the station chief or the Hotan county public security bureau.
A second call to the Layqa police station was answered by a young Uyghur auxiliary officer who confirmed that the attacker was “a Uyghur boy named Qeyyum Abla,” who had already been arrested, while the victim was “a Han Chinese man … [who] worked as a high official in the township government.”
The auxiliary officer also said he was not permitted to speak about the incident with anyone outside of the police force and declined to provide further details.
A young Uyghur resident of Layqa town center also confirmed the attack and said news of the incident had spread quickly through the region.
“Yes, I know about this event—everyone knows what happened recently in our township,” she said, speaking to RFA on condition of anonymity.
“A Han Chinese man—the head of the township government—was killed. I heard the attacker had already been detained by police, but I don’t know his motive.”
Washington-based Ilshat Hesen, vice president of the Uyghur American Association, told RFA that the attack was likely an expression of resistance to Beijing’s policies in Xinjiang, where Uyghurs complain of pervasive ethnic discrimination, religious repression, and cultural suppression by China’s communist government.
“Uyghurs are continuously struggling against the Chinese regime because of Beijing’s high pressure policies affecting their religious beliefs and culture … [and] Hotan is one of the most strictly-controlled and closed areas of the Uyghur region,” he said.
“Township heads or party secretaries are the main power brokers under the county government, so to attack and kill a Han Chinese township head clearly indicates the level of resistance the Uyghur people feel towards China’s repressive policies.”
Hotan prefecture in southwestern Xinjiang has been a hotbed of violent stabbing and shooting incidents between ethnic Uyghurs and Chinese security forces, with attacks coming amid a string of assaults and bombings across the region.
Two successive suicide bombings on May 11 and 12 at a security checkpoint station in Hotan’s Lop (Luopu) county killed three attackers and three police officers, and wounded four other policemen, according to local authorities, who said the incidents were likely “politically motivated.”
Rights groups accuse the Chinese authorities of heavy-handed rule in Hotan and elsewhere in Xinjiang, including violent police raids on Uyghur households, restrictions on Islamic practices, and curbs on the culture and language of the Uyghur people.
Reported by Eset Sulaiman for RFA’s Uyghur Service. Translated by Eset Sulaiman. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.