Xinjiang expats hold Anti-China protest outside White House after the 2009 Urumqi riots (Photo: Creative Commons)
Earlier this month, Chinese police forces killed 28 ‘terrorists’ who were believed to be behind an attack on a coal mine back in September.
The coal mine attack in Aksu, Xinjiang, went unreported by Chinese media, but was reported by American Government-sponsored Radio Free Asia two months ago, stating at least 50 people were killed. Police had been searching for the suspects for almost two months. The Xinjiang Daily reported that the 28 suspects were ‘completely annihilated’, a possible reference to the use of flamethrowers.
Archive image of a flamethrower, a weapon used by the Chinese police to ‘completely annihilate’ 28 ethnic Uyghurs who the Chinese police described as terror suspects among the corpses found are that of four women and three children. (Photo: Creative Commons)
Xinjiang, a predominantly Muslim region in China’s northwest, has seen the ethnic Uyghurs fall from a 90% majority of the population in the 1970s to less than 50% now. This is due to the Government resettling Han Chinese into the region, providing them with well-paid, high-ranking jobs, and accommodation, thus forcing the Uyghurs to adapt to the Han way of life and Mandarin language, or struggle in the face of severe discrimination.
As well as economic and social discrimination, the Government enforces culturally and religiously repressive policies on the Uyghurs, in attempts to eliminate their culture. Restrictions on Islamic practices include banning women from wearing the hijab, banning men from growing beards, and fasting during Ramadan.
Violence in the region has also escalated in recent years. It unfortunately cannot be denied that what started primarily as acts of discontent in opposition to Government policies, have come closer to mimicking acts of extremism as seen in other parts of the world. Beijing’s repression certainly only helped to breed this behaviour.
However, while China says ‘foreign terrorists’ are to be blamed for the violence, there seems to be consensus from the international community that the violence is indeed a result of Beijing’s repression.
China is highly critical of what it sees as the West’s double standards, particularly in the wake of the recent Paris attacks. The China Daily quoted someone as saying: “Western countries and their media refuse to recognise the violence and attacks masterminded by extremists in China’s Xinjiang Uyghur region as acts of terrorism. In their eyes, only terrorist attacks that happen on Western soil can be called acts of terrorism.”
Interestingly, China reserves the use of the word ‘terrorism’ for violence associated with Uyghurs; explosions in Guangxi killing seven people last month was not labelled terrorism.
President of China, Xi Jinping, also called for global unity in the fight against terrorism, but by refusing to allow independent investigations and restricting access to Xinjiang, Beijing’s credibility is undermined.
Indeed, according to the RFA, eleven of the 28 ‘terrorists’ killed by Chinese police were believed to be women and children. China Director at Human Rights Watch, Sophie Richardson, who called on the Government to allow independent investigations, said: “The death toll in China’s counterterrorism campaigns is deepening scepticism about Beijing’s tactics and goals.”
According to Ghalip Memet, a police officer from Terek township, the authorities were able to kill all the suspects without suffering any casualties on their side by blowing up the cave where suspects were hiding. Among the 17 corpses they collected after the explosion, there were four women and three children: 9 year old Munire, a second-grade student at Terek Township Middle School, and two boys, aged six and one.
Another local official confirmed that neither the women nor the children had been involved in the mine attack, but had followed the suspects when they fled their town. According to a Xinjiang Government statement, the leaders of the mine attack in Aksu were Musa Tohniyaz and Mamat Aysa, both Uyghur names. Authorities drafted around 10,000 locals to join the search, with farmers armed with wooden batons and farming tools.
A teacher from Terek Township Middle School told RFA that Chinese authorities would not have released information about killing 17 ‘terrorists’, had the Paris attacks not occurred a day earlier.
The teacher raised valid questions, such as how China could successfully convince the international community that the dead women and children were terrorists, or how they would justify detaining thousands of people after the attack on the mine in Aksu, or how coercing farmers to participate in the search had been part of “professional police methodology”.
International commentators believe that Beijing has exaggerated the threat from Uyghur ‘separatists’ to justify their tough security measures. Rights groups accuse the authorities of violating human rights and using unnecessary force to keep control of the resource-rich region. Spokesman for the World Uyghur Congress, Dilxat Raxit, said Beijing is shirking responsibility for the consequences of its own polices by claiming that foreign groups directed the attacks.