Friday, December 30, 2011

Pishan Incident: Hotan Re-visited?

It has been reported that as a result of a "kidnapping" by an Uyghur "terror gang" Chinese police in Pishan, Xinjiang have been involved in a rescue operation that resulted in the death of seven Uyghurs, one policeman and injuries to four others.

The incident in Pishan, which is a rural cotton farming town in the Hotan Prefecture and near the major city of Hotan, occurred on Wednesday night.

Initial, scanty reports are that two Uyghur shepherds were kidnapped, for an as yet unspecified reason, by a group of Uyghurs variously described as "terrorists" or as members of a "terror gang"

The official government website for Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region reports that
"The assailants resisted arrest and launched assaults, killing one police officer and injuring another,"

Other Chinese media, Xinhua in particular, have speculated that the incident occurred as a result of "Islamic extremism" suggesting that the event may be linked to an alleged recent kidnapping and murder of another Uyghur in Pishan for consuming alcohol. For further emphasis they even have gone as far as to say that local stores are scared of selling alcohol for fear of retribution.

The Uyghur World Congress, an exile group claiming to represent Uyghur people worldwide, has a different spin on the events leading up to the incident. Their spokesman, Dilxat Raxit, has been reported by several news agencies as claiming the incident was triggered by simmering tension between the Uyghurs and Chinese officials over religious matters, with the latter conducting forced searches of Uyghur homes for banned religious material and being responsible for the "disappearance" of several young Uyghur men.

In a striking resemblance to a July incident in Hotan, where 18 Uyghurs were reported killed, Raxit claims several Uyghurs marched on the Pishan police station in protest and it was there that the incident unfolded with the Uyghur casualties coming as a result of being "publicly" shot. Also, in what could be an attempt to reduce dissemination of information of the incident, Raxit claims authorities had started confiscating mobile phones.

In the Hotan incident Chinese officials also claimed a group of Uyghur "terrorists" had stormed the local police station taking several people hostage. One Han woman was killed along with a policeman before a rescue operation was commenced resulting in the official Uyghur death toll of eighteen.

As in the Hotan incident, even though it is early times here, there are several worrying things about the Chinese version of events.

Why are the alleged perpetrators called a "terror gang" as distinct from the more popular "terrorist" group? Are they "terrorists" within the accepted meaning of the word, or, are they a group of people terrorising their neighbours? Semantics, translation or bet hedging?

Why, as in Hotan, do we have one police fatality? Is this "fact" somehow meant to ameliorate the use of seemingly excessive lethal force by the police? Similarly, the use of "hostage" taking and "kidnapping". Again, is this part of an accepted formula for handling incidents that result in such high casualty figures? 

Then, as in Hotan, we have, what seems to be, the obligatory "Islamic Extremism" tie in combined with an Alcohol factor. The Uyghurs practice, generally, a fairly relaxed form of Islam and alcohol consumption, whilst frowned upon, is not unknown even in Kashgar that more closely shares the Hotan areas religious bent.

It would seem that, as in Hotan, all the t's are crossed and i's dotted. It seems so formulaic.

This story bears closer attention, not only for the high casualty rate, but, also for the fact that  in the last several months we have witnessed three episodes involving considerable numbers of Uyghur deaths and, leaving aside Urumqi in 2009, there has not been so many, so deadly and so closely timed  incidents for many decades.

No comments: