Dozens of Uighurs were killed in clashes between Chinese security forces and the country’s Muslim ethnic minority in China’s northwestern region of Xinjiang, state-controlled media and activists reported Tuesday.
China's Xinhua News Agency said the violence took place Monday morning in Shache County near the city of Kashgar. Many Uighurs complain of harassment and repression by the Chinese government, and say the rapid influx of majority Han Chinese threatens Uighurs’ culture and livelihood.
The violence took place on Eid, a holiday that marks the end of the Muslim month of fasting, Ramadan, which Muslims traditionally spend praying in mosques, spending time with family, and visiting relatives.
“This day is very important for Muslims, especially for Uighurs, and they will avoid anything that could cause problems ... this violence means that there was a madness on the side of the Chinese government and people reacted to the government's aggression,” Omer Kanat, vice president of the North America chapter of the World Uighur Conference, told Al Jazeera.
“According to our information, more than 24 Uighurs including civilians were killed by Chinese security forces after they launched a popular protest against the government’s repression."
China’s state-controlled media said a gang armed with knives attacked a police station and government offices in the township of Elixku. The news agency said dozens of people were killed or injured in the attacks. It also said police shot and killed dozens of the attackers.
“The government said that dozens of Uighurs including civilians were killed, so that means that there was extrajudicial killing. Xinhua said dozens of thugs were shot dead by Chinese security forces,” Kanat said. “The Chinese government doesn’t even bother to arrest people involved in protests, they just shoot and kill. This crackdown will cause more reaction from the Uighurs … I think the government wants them to rise up, become angry and react — then China has an excuse to arrest more people, threaten more people, scare more people, and kill more people.”
There has been increasing violence in Xinjiang in recent months that China has blamed on pro-independence Uighurs. But rights activists have accused China of religious and cultural repression, including banning beards and vendors of traditional snacks.
“During Ramadan the Chinese government forced people to eat,” Kanat said. “Students were stopped at the gates of universities and checked to see whether they have been fasting; then they were forced to eat.”
Kanat said he didn’t expect the violence to end with Ramadan.
“The Chinese government will continue its repression, and if it doesn’t change its repressive policy, the people will react,” Kanat said. “The people are so angry and desperate and frustrated — They don’t have anything to lose … It’s easy for the Chinese government to blame them and label them as terrorists because they are Muslim."
With wire services