Differing Accounts of Recent Violence in Xinjiang

The New York Times, 17 February 2014

The ethnic polarization troubling the northwestern Chinese region of Xinjiang has brought a grim succession of bloody incidents pitting Uighurs against security forces – and has also been echoed in the vastly different interpretations from the government and from advocates of Uighur self-determination that invariably follow those incidents. The latest bloodshed has followed that pattern.

Over the weekend, government officials released a few details of what they described as a separatist attack Friday in Wushi County, Aksu Prefecture, when a gang with bombs made from gas cylinders attacked a group of police officers. The police shot and killed eight of the gang members, and another three of the attackers died in an explosion they set off, according to the official account. Two police officers and two local residents were injured, it said.

The Uighurs are a Turkic-speaking ethnic minority who are mostly Sunni Muslim. According to the Xinjiang police, the violence was the latest example of a terrorist assault inspired by Islamist extremism and separatism. The police said the attack had been mounted by “a group of 13 terrorist suspects” established in September 2013 by Mehmut Tohti, “who started to spread religious extremism three years ago,” according to Xinhua, the state-run news agency.

“They listened to audio products and watched videos of terrorism content and carried out physical training,” the report read. “They purchased vehicles, made explosive devices and hacking knives since January and did trial explosions several times to prepare for attacks on police vehicles, according to the police.”

But advocates of Uighur self-determination say the Chinese authorities’ own overbearing security measures have fueled primitive convulsions of violence by dispossessed Uighurs. The government has distorted and exaggerated the ethnic violence to undermine legitimate Uighur demands, the advocates say.

The World Uyghur Congress, a group with headquarters in Munich that campaigns for self-determination for Xinjiang (and uses an alternative spelling of Uighur), said the government’s account of bloodshed in Wushi County had followed that template.

“This type of killing has become an increasingly common occurrence or even ‘standard operating procedure’ for the Chinese government,” the Congress said in a statement released Sunday on its website. The group called for the government to produce evidence to back up its accusations.

“This latest incident illustrates a recent trend of state-sponsored violence used to quell Uyghur dissent, whereby authorities ignore due process of the law, shoot and kill Uyghurs, label them terrorists and then use counterterrorism to justify the unlawful killings and further repression in the region,” the president of the Congress, Rebiya Kadeer, said in the statement.

Ms. Kadeer’s career has reflected the deepening divisions between the Chinese authorities and Uighurs who want more say over their homeland’s policies and resources. She was once a successful businesswoman in Xinjiang who was feted by the Chinese government as an example of successful Uighur enterprise – until 1999, when she was arrested on charges of sending illegal information to her husband in the United States. After serving time in prison, she was released in 2005 and left for the United States.

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