Chinese authorities say order has been restored after clashes between armed men and officials and police in Bachu (Uighur: Maralbeshi) county near Kashgar in the western part of Xinjiang April 23. The death toll stands at 21, including 15 police officers and social workers, in what official news portal Tianshan Net called a “violent terror incident.” Fighting apparently started when a patrol of police, local officials and community workers were set upon with knives and axes. Ethnic Uighurs were blamed for the attack, in which six of the assailants were slain. The Foreign Ministry said a “violent terrorist group” was behind the assault. (BBC News, April 25; BBC News, AFP, Al Jazeera, April 24)
But an account by the Germany-based World Uyghur Congress, based on reports from anonymous witnesses, says the violence started when the patrol attempted to execute a house search after receiving a tip about “suspicious people.” A young Uighur was reportedly shot in what the WUC called the “illegal” search, setting off the fighting. World Uyghur Congress spokesman Dilshat Raxit dismissed the government’s terrorism claims, stating, “They always use such labels as a way of justifying their use of armed force.” He added that the authorities had flooded the area with Chinese security forces overnight.
The DC-based Uyghur American Association adds that the incident took place as US Ambassador Gary Locke was visiting Xinjiang (“East Turkestan,” in the UAA’s parlance) with a trade delegation of energy, rail and transportation companies. The implication is that the house search was carried out in an ironic bid to clean up the area and assure peace during Locke’s visit. “It is vitally important for Ambassador Locke to remind the Chinese authorities that the constant attack on Uyghur identity, language, culture, religion and ethnicity as well as equating Uyghurs’ legitimate grievances with terrorism, separatism and extremism will not bring long-term peace and stability to the region,” said UAA president Alim Seytoff.
Last month, the Uyghur American Association condemned the sentencing of 20 Uighurs on charges of separatism and terrorism at five hearings in Kashgar and Bayingolin prefectures. The sentences, ranging from five years to life imprisonment, concerned five cases in which Uighur men were accused of using the Internet, cell phones and digital devices to organize a “terrorist organization” with the intent to “incite splittism.” WUC’s Dilshat Raxit contended the men did nothing more than download and view videos from YouTube and audio from the Radio Free Asia’s Uyghur service. “These sentences are intended to scare Uighur people from discovering an alternative account of events in their homeland and is a violation of their right to freedom of information,” Raxit said.