In what has been described as an “anti-terrorist” raid, 28 ethnic Uyghurs were surrounded by Chinese police and fired upon, leaving at least 15 dead. Authorities claim the group was “engaged in illegal religious activity and terrorist exercises”The “anti-terror operation” occurred in northwest China’s Xinjiang Province on Aug. 20, Batur Osman, police chief of Yikiqi township, told Radio Free Asia (RFA).
The “anti-terror operation” occurred in northwest China’s Xinjiang Province on Aug. 20, Batur Osman, police chief of Yikiqi township, told Radio Free Asia (RFA).
The group was gathered in a desert area near the township, which is located in the prefecture of Kashgar, and was “successfully and completely destroy[ed],” Osman said.
Osman declined to disclose the number of victims, but a police assistant at the Yilkiqi police station, identified only as Alimjan, told RFA that among those killed were at least 15 Uyghurs and one Han Chinese policeman.
While the police maintain that the group was training for terrorist acts, locals present a different story. One Yilkiqi resident, whose name is withheld, said that the group was gathered for prayer.
“When they gathered in the desert and were praying together, they were surrounded and fired on. There were 26 people there and all of them were killed. The police, instead of carrying the bodies to the village, buried them all in the desert using a bulldozer,” he told RFA.
Xinjiang Province is a turbulent region in China. It is home to the Uyghur ethnic group, who are Turkic peoples of the Islamic religion. Strife caused by discrimination against Uyghurs and other minorities as well as increased Han Chinese immigration to the province has resulted in a trend of violent incidents. The communist government typically blames these incidents on Musilm terrorists within the minority population, but human rights groups and analysts say that the authorities often exaggerate the threat to downplay domestic policies that cause unrest or to justify the use of force against ethnic minorities.
In China, only five state-controlled religions are permitted, and independent groups and denominations, such as the Christian house churches or the practice of Falun Gong, are subject to persecution.
According to Asia News, other locals, who also requested anonymity, said: “We were meeting in a desert area, but only to pray without having to account to the officials. Religious practice is increasingly controlled, and many of us do not want to have to report to the government even what we are saying to God.”