by Hibberd Kline
Impunity Watch, Asia
BEIJING, China — In a statement released on the 27th of July by a human rights group based in China (HRIC), a call for a “full and transparent investigation” for the July 18th violence that rocked the city of Hotan in China’s northwestern Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region was made.
HRIC’s statement follows nine days of inconsistent reports detailing the nature of the incident. Officials initially placed the death toll at “at least 4.” However, China’s state media later reported that Chinese security forces had since raised the figure to 18. Official government sources and state media maintain that the violence occurred when a group of ethnic minority Uyghurs attacked a local police station. Official sources have alternatively referred to the alleged attackers as “Thugs,” perpetrators of an “organized terrorist attack,” “rioters,” “separatists” and “religious extremists.”
The latest official report was released on July 26 in a statement by the Chinese embassy in Turkey. The embassy put the number of attackers at 18. The embassy further alleged that the 18 were “radical religious fundamentalist and violent terrorists” armed with Molotov cocktails, knives and axes.
According to the embassy, one police officer and a few hostages were killed in the attack. China’s official Xinhua news agency reported that police gunned down 14 attackers.
World Uyghur Congress (WUC), a Uyghur exile group based in Germany, tells an entirely different story.
WUC claims that security forces beat 14 people to death and gunned down six others. WUC further suggests that the incident did not take place at the police station, but at a nearby Bazaar where Uyghurs had peacefully gathered to demand the release of previously detained family members. WUC reports that at least 70 people have been detained since the violence began. WUC claims to possess several eye-witness accounts of the incident. This claim is a key factor behind HRIC’s call for a full independent investigation.
The Uyghur population has long chafed under restrictions on their religion and other rights. However, tensions between Xinjiang’s Uyghur ethnic minority and China’s ethnic Han majority have grown markedly strained in recent years.
Xinjiang is currently experiencing significant ethnic Han migration and a coordinated effort by the Chinese government to develop the region’s rich oil and natural gas reserves, which are seen as crucial to China’s economic development.
Was the violence in Hotan an organized terrorist attack, a riot, or a peaceful protest turned violent at the hands of government security forces? With heavy domestic censorship and a foreign media blackout, it is hard to tell, many argue that China’s lack of transparency and consistency in its accounts of the 18 July event do not aid beneficial dialogue.
For more information please see:
Today’s Zaman – China criticiszes press coverage of Hotan incidents – 29 July 2011
World Uyghur Congress – Uyghurs to Stage Demonstration in Vienna to Protest Hotan Incident – 28 July 2011
HRIC – HRIC Calls for Full and Transparent Investigation of July 18 Incident in Hotan – 27 July 2011
Voice of America – Details of Alleged Xinjiang ‘Terrorist Attack’ Still Sketchy – 27 July 2011
China Daily – 14 rioters shot down in Xinjiang attack – 20 July 2011
Global Times – Hotan on high alert after attack – 20 July 2011
Guardian – China raises Xinjiang police station death toll to 18 – 20 July 2011
BBC – Xinjiang police attack was terrorism, China says – 19 July 2011
Sunday Times – China blames ‘terrorists’ for attack in Xinjiang: report – 19 July 2011
Yahoo News – Clash in China’s Xinjiang killed 20: exile group – 19 July 2011