Authorities Go After Uyghurs As Police Guns Go Missing
Authorities in a village in China’s restive Xinjiang region are arresting ethnic minority Muslim Uyghurs at random as part of a search for police guns they say went missing when deadly violence flared on the eve of the Eid al-Fitr festival, according to residents.
Hundreds of Uyghurs are believed to have been taken into police custody since police opened fire at a crowd protesting prayer restrictions at No. 16 Village of Akyol town in Aksu prefecture on Aug. 7 ahead of the festival marking the end of Islam’s holy month of Ramadan.
Residents of No. 16 Village told RFA’s Uyghur Service that although police had already arrested nearly all of the villagers linked to the incident, they continue to detain “five or six people every day” who have no connection to the violence in their search for up to four missing guns.
“We heard from some police officers that three or four guns had disappeared the night of the clash between Chinese security forces and Uyghur farmers,” a woman from the village said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
“Armed Chinese security forces are searching the home of every Uyghur farmer and arresting five or six people every day to find the missing weapons.”
The woman said that her son had been arrested in one of the searches and that she had no information about where he was being held.
Chinese government employees and police officers had told her that it would take six months to a year to interrogate those picked up in the sweep and that it was “too early” to begin looking for her son.
“[The authorities] all wear Chinese army uniforms, wield rifles and search everywhere [in the village], but they have still been unable to locate the missing guns,” she said.
“The farmers are wondering how long this will continue because there is no relief for us, day or night.”
Other villagers confirmed that the police roundups were ongoing, but questioned whether the hunt for the weapons was simply a ruse for authorities to detain more residents in connection with the violence earlier this month.
“Yes, I heard about that too,” one farmer told RFA. “I heard that four police weapons went missing the night the farmers clashed with police officers in front of a mosque.”
“Security forces are now searching and arresting people to find the guns. I think they haven’t found them yet, because they are still searching and making arrests,” he said.
But the farmer said he doubted that the police were looking for missing weapons.
“It’s hard to say how true this news really is,” he said.
“Maybe it was just fabricated as an excuse for the Chinese forces to arrest Uyghurs.”
A third resident said that the police could detain people whether they were looking for guns or not.
“Some Uyghur police told us that [the gun were missing] when they were searching homes,” he said.
Calls to several police stations in Aksu city and Akyol town led to respondents hanging up without answering questions about the missing guns, except for one person who said inquiries would not be addressed over the phone.
Last week, residents said that between 300 and 400 Uyghurs had been taken into custody since police fired on a crowd pelting stones and bricks at them as they protested prayer restrictions imposed by the authorities.
At least three Uyghurs were killed and more than 50 injured in the violence.
The Germany-based exile World Uyghur Congress and the U.S.-based Uyghur American Association have blasted the Chinese authorities for opening fire on the Uyghur crowd, calling it an “insensitive, heavy-handed” move and criticizing the “unlawful restrictions on peaceful religious practice.”
Uyghurs in Xinjiang say they have long suffered ethnic discrimination, oppressive religious controls, and continued poverty and joblessness, blaming their hardships partly on a massive influx of Han Chinese into the region.
Reported and translated by Rukiye Turdush for RFA’s Uyghur Service. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.