Authorities in northwest China’s Xinjiang region have sentenced a retired veterinarian to eight years in prison for providing medical assistance to a fellow ethnic Uyghur following a deadly clash in Kashgar (in Chinese, Kashi) prefecture three years ago, according to official sources.
On July 28, 2014, Uyghur residents of Elishku township, in Kashgar’s Yarkand (Shache) county, protested the detention of a dozen Uyghur women for praying overnight at a local mosque and the subsequent indiscriminate use of force and extra-judicial killings by Chinese security forces in several townships.
Authorities fired on the protesters with live ammunition and at least 96 people were killed in the ensuing violence, according to Chinese state media, though Uyghur exile groups have said as many as 2,000 may have died. A crackdown by police in the county following the incident led to mass jailings of work-age Uyghur males.
Speaking to RFA’s Uyghur Service on the third anniversary of the violence, Yasinjan Helil, the party secretary of nearby Tomosteng township’s No. 9 village, suggested that he had maintained stability at the time as “only a veterinarian from my township was involved in the incident, while several hundred others were from neighboring townships.”
When pressed for more information about the jailed veterinarian, Helil confirmed that 65-year-old Haliq Mahmut, also of Tomosteng, had been sentenced to eight years in prison for removing a bullet from the leg of a wounded fellow Uyghur that asked him for assistance at his home on the night of the incident.
"Even the veterinarian was not directly or knowingly involved in the incident—it was an accidental case,” he said.
“The wounded suspect had come to his house at midnight after the violence and asked him to remove the bullet from his leg. The veterinarian did as requested.”
According to Helil, Mahmut and the suspect knew of one another, but “had no actual relationship.”
By treating the suspect, Mahmut prevented the need for an amputation, and may have even saved the man’s life, he said, adding that the veterinarian had engaged in no prior political activity or protests linked to the incident in Elishku.
Chinese authorities arrested Mahmut on July 30, 2014, in the crackdown that followed the violence, Helil said.
An officer at the Yarkand County Public Security Department confirmed to RFA that Mahmut is currently serving his eight-year sentence at No. 6 Prison in Xinjiang’s capital Urumqi.
Neither official could confirm the identity or the condition of the Uyghur suspect treated by Mahmut.
A neighbor of Mahmut’s, who spoke on condition of anonymity, told RFA that he was an experienced veterinarian who had recently retired from the Tomosteng Township Veterinary Center and had opened a small practice as a family business in the village where he lives with his wife and five children.
“He was such a responsible and kind person to his neighbors that we are still in shock over his eight-year sentence,” he said.
Uyghur exile groups say the death toll in the 2014 Yarkand incident was the highest ever reported in Xinjiang violence, surpassing the 200 killed in rioting in Urumqi in 2009 involving the mostly Muslim Uyghurs and members of China's ethnic Han majority.
Residents told RFA at the time that the authorities had imposed a near-total information lockdown in the wake of the violence, cutting off Internet access in Yarkand and blocking the sending of text messages.
More than a year after the incident, Uyghur farmers in Yarkand told RFA they were struggling to earn a living amid restrictions imposed by Chinese authorities because of the mass jailings of work-age men following the clashes in the county, and had been blocked from leaving their homes to seek work elsewhere.
China’s Communist Party blames some Uyghurs for a string of violent attacks and clashes in China in recent years, but critics say the government has exaggerated the threat from the ethnic group, and that repressive domestic policies are responsible for violence that has left hundreds dead since 2009.
China regularly conducts “strike hard” campaigns in Xinjiang, including police raids on Uyghur households, restrictions on Islamic practices, and curbs on the culture and language of the Uyghur people, including videos and other material.
Reported and translated by Shohret Hoshur for RFA’s Uyghur Service. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.