HK reporters detained again in Urumqi

PUBLISHED : Monday, 07 September, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 07 September, 2009, 12:00am

Five Hong Kong reporters were briefly detained in Urumq i yesterday as they tried to interview people who had been tear-gassed - the second such incident involving Hong Kong reporters and paramilitary forces during the past three days.

Meanwhile, the Xinjiang regional government vowed harsh punishment for syringe attackers who triggered the latest Urumqi unrest while at the same time sending about 1,500 officials to visit Uygurs in their homes to spread the government's message.

Those who stabbed others with needles containing poisonous or harmful substances would face at least three years in jail, and possibly life imprisonment, or even the death penalty, if convicted, according to a notice jointly released by the city's court, the prosecutor's office and police department late on Sunday.

Wang Lequan, Xinjiang's party chief, was quoted by Xinhua as saying yesterday the officials and police officers were dispatched to Uygur neighbourhoods in Urumqi to 'explain government polices and solve ethnic disputes'. Another 600 senior officials would be deployed to do the same in Han Chinese communities.

The reporters who were detained are Gary Chan Wai-li and his cameraman Lau Hiu-lap from NOW TV, RTHK reporter Emily Chan Miu-ling and Chow Man-tai, and Commercial Radio reporter Sherlock Yeung Tung-tat.

'We were detained on the ground that our presence would further provoke the restive crowd,' Yeung said after his release. 'They [police] pushed us around when they took us away.'

On Friday, three Hong Kong reporters were beaten up by paramilitary officers while filming Han Chinese protests over regional government incompetence in handling a recent bizarre string of syringe attacks.

Urumqi police said yesterday 513 people had been attacked with syringes, of whom 171 showed obvious wounds. Most victims were Han Chinese, police said.

The People's Liberation Army has set up a group to examine whether the syringes contained any virus or harmful substance.

Security was still very heavy in Urumqi yesterday with thousands of armed police deployed throughout the city watching for trouble. Life seemed to be edging back to an uneasy normality, with pedestrians and traffic slowly reappearing on the streets.

Supermarkets seemed to be the only places where crowds could be found. 'Wet markets are too dangerous to go to these days, and there are also rumours that vegetables and meats there are poisoned,' said a middle-aged woman worker at vegetable stalls in French supermarket chain Carrefour. 'Our business doubled recently. Shoppers bought quite a lot to stock up their fridges so they don't have to go out and do unnecessary shopping.'

Huang Xiaoya, a restaurant manager whose restaurant is next to the city government building, said: 'People prefer staying at home than going out. The streets are too dangerous these days.'

Huang, who moved to Urumqi 15 years ago, said business over the past few days had dropped sharply.

'No one goes out alone. When we see an Uygur approaching, we will walk away, keeping a distance. Who knows whether they'll attack us or not,' she said, adding that she was ready to send her four-year-old son back to Chongqing , her home town, if things showed no sign of improvement. Some Han Chinese residents in Urumqi believed the syringe attacks were a scare campaign organised by Uygurs in a bid to drive them out of the city.

The sacking of two top officials on Saturday did not appear to appease public anger, as people demanded more action and hardline policies to restore order.

Huang said she hoped the new party boss and police chief would take a hard line with criminals.

The city's party boss Li Zhi was sacked on Saturday along with Xinjiang's top police official Liu Yaohua after days of massive protests. Li was replaced by Zhu Hailun, while Liu was replaced by Zhu Changjie .