Han Chinese students in China’s northwest Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region beat an ethnic Uyghur teacher while his Han colleagues stood by in a large scale fight which may have been fueled by state propaganda, according to various sources.
In the incident, which occurred about two months ago but was disclosed only recently, Han Chinese children at the Karamay No. 2 High School in Xinjiang’s Karamay city set upon their Uyghur peers with sticks as teachers watched, leaving scores in need of medical attention, witnesses said.
Mathematics teacher Mahmut Abliz, 30, said that during the melee, he was held down by a group of students and beaten about the side of his body.
“Yes, I was beaten by some students who were holding sticks while I tried to settle the quarrel. My shoulder was bruised and one of my fingers was injured,” Mahmut Abliz said, adding that he was unable to recognize his attackers in the flurry of movement.
“It was absolutely Han students, because there is no reason a Uyghur student would beat me.”
The teacher said there was no way he could have been mistaken for a Uyghur student.
“It is impossible. I am a 30-year-old man with an average body. My students who fought in the incident are just teenagers—12 to 14 years old,” he said.
“I don’t want to think about the reason I was attacked or my negative memories of the incident … [But] I think that siding with or being an onlooker to such student clashes is very shameful for a teacher. I am lucky that I was able to keep myself away from such unethical actions that day.”
Han teachers on duty at the school were spectators to the Han student-led attack on their Uyghur classmates and took no action, according to Uyghur students who expressed shock in the aftermath of the incident.
But another Uyghur teacher, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said he was not surprised by the student attack “because ethnic tensions have existed in our region historically.”
“I think that the Han people need to deeply and dramatically change many aspects of their society. And I believe that should begin with the political system.”
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.
More than a month after the incident, acting-party secretary of the school Asiye Kurban acknowledged to RFA that the attack was not simply the result of a fight that got out of control.
“Yes, it was such a shameful event for our school that a teacher was beaten by students and we condemn those who attacked Mahmut Abliz,” she said.
“We also will adopt measures to deal with those who verbally attacked teachers and students,” she said, implying that ethnic insults had been hurled at the Uyghur students and teacher.
Karamay Prosecutor Ablimit Hesen warned of further unrest if the school did not act.
“Everybody knows that the attack [against the teacher] was neither accidental nor unexpected. If the school does not take this event seriously, they will certainly regret it sooner or later.”
Tursunjan Qasim, a Uyghur asylum seeker who recently reached Washington from the Xinjiang capital of Urumqi, said state propaganda had contributed to the motivation for the attack on Mahmut Abliz.
He said state media ran nearly a year of “coverage” on the “violent nature” of Uyghurs following the 2009 ethnic riots in Urumqi that left 200 mostly Han Chinese dead, according to official estimates.
“Other portions of the event, like the excessive use of force by police which led to the violence was not mentioned at all. When the new generation grows up in such circumstances, of course they [react this way] when facing the ethnic issue,” he said.
“Besides that, at all the schools, Uyghur teachers are prohibited from teaching with their mother tongue. As a result, most Uyghur teachers have become useless and incompetent. This situation has caused the students to respect them less, particularly the Han students.”
“That is why the Han Chinese students didn’t hesitate to beat a Uyghur teacher.”
Tursunjan Qasim called the beating of a teacher by his students a “typical sign of the ethical collapse of a society,” comparing the behavior to attacks that commonly occurred during the Cultural Revolution era of national founder Mao Zedong, when Chinese youth were taught to rebel against “outmoded beliefs.”
“The only difference is at that time the motivation was purely political. This time the motivation was both political and racial,” he said.
Reported by Shohret Hoshur for RFA’s Uyghur service. Translated by Shohret Hoshur. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.