Uyghur Man Shot Dead in Violence Sparked by His Beard

xinjiang-beard-aksu-2008.jpg A bearded man sits outside a metal workshop in Aksu, July 31, 2008.

Security forces in western China’s restive Xinjiang region have shot dead an ethnic Uyghur man who stabbed two people, including a police officer, in violence that broke out after he was pressed to shave his beard, according to police.

Enver Omer, 30, was killed in Aksu prefecture’s in Uchturpan (in Chinese, Wushi) county following a dispute with a local religious affairs official who was conducting street patrols aimed at curbing religious attire.

RFA’s Uyghur Service came to learn of the June 28 incident only last week amid the tight restrictions in volatile Xinjiang, where the mostly Muslim Uyghur ethnic minority group complain of religious controls including curbs on traditional and Islamic dress and appearance such as men’s beards and women’s veils.

The incident took place on the same day as bloody clashes broke out in Hotan prefecture and two days after the Xinjiang’s deadliest violence in four years rocked Lukchun township in Turpan prefecture’s Pichan county.

According to local police, the dispute erupted near the Yengimehelle mosque in Uchturpan town’s Kashboyi neighborhood while a worker from the religious affairs office of the Uchturpan Bazaar was patrolling the street with two police officers.

The three stopped Enver Omer and pressed him to stop wearing a beard. In a heated argument that ensued when he refused, Enver Omer stabbed the religious affairs worker, Ablet Mutellip, prompting security forces from the county police station to rush to the scene.

Enver Omer then stabbed one of the county policemen, Enver Eysa, before being shot and killed by another police officer, according to the local public security department.

A map of Xinjiang showing Uchturpan in Aksu prefecture. Credit: RFA. The incident came after local officials had implemented orders to conduct patrols for religious attire, said Ehmetjan Niyaz, an official of the Uchturpan public security department’s intelligence unit.

“We have a policy of going and checking bearded and strangely clothed people, according to orders from the top,” he told RFA’s Uyghur Service, adding that instructions to shave beards had recently been given at the local mosque.

“They stopped [Enver Omer] and asked him to shave off his beard and keep his face clean-shaven.”

“But he chased Ablet with his knife and injured him,” he said, adding that Enver Omer did not have a criminal record.

Police from the Uchturpan Bazaar station and the nearby Yakowruk station confirmed the pre-noon incident.

Yasin Ghopur, head of the Uchturpan state security, said the Aksu prefectural police chief and other senior police officials visited the injured Enver Eysa at the hospital.

Spate of regional violence

Two days before Enver Omer was shot dead, dozens were killed in Lukchun township of Pichan county in Turpan prefecture in the bloodiest violence since July 5, 2009 unrest in regional capital Urumqi that triggered a massive crackdown.

According to China’s Xinhua state news agency, 35 people died after police opened fire at "knife-wielding mobs" who had attacked police stations and other sites in the county, though local sources told RFA the death toll was 46.

On June 28, in Hotan prefecture's Hanerik township, police fired at hundreds of Uyghurs protesting the arrest of a young religious leader and closure of a mosque, officials confirmed, acknowledging that up to 15 people may have been killed and 50 others injured.

The same day, local officials said that at least three people were killed in separate violence in Tuanjie Square in Hotan city amid conflicting reports on the circumstances that led to the incident.

Closer to Uchturpan, earlier in June at least 12 Uyghurs in Ghorachol town in Aksu’s Awat county were killed in a blast—apparently triggered by explosives they were carrying—following a house-to-house search conducted by local police officers.

Chinese authorities blame outbreaks of violence in the region on Uyghur "terrorists," 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 the Uyghur minority.

Rights groups have hit out at local restrictions in Xinjiang targeting women in veils and discouraging men from wearing beards, saying they hinder not only religious practice but also Uyghur traditions.

Reported by Shohret Hoshur for RFA’s Uyghur Service. Translated by Mamatjan Juma. Written in English by Rachel Vandenbrink.

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