Ban on Islamic dress sparked Uygur attack

PUBLISHED : Friday, 22 July, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 22 July, 2011, 12:00am


Local residents believe that an attempt by the authorities in Hotan, Xinjiang, to gradually ban local Uygur women from wearing black veils and traditional Islamic black outfits was one of the main triggers of a deadly attack at a local police station on Monday.

A local government spokesman confirmed that an official campaign had been launched in recent months against a new trend of wearing black veils along with black robes - similar to the Islamic robes worn by the 'black widow' attackers in the southern Russian republic of Chechnya - although those in Xinjiang are not exactly burqas.

The trend was alarming because such outfits became popular only after the riots in July 2009 - which claimed 197 lives and injured about 2,000 - and they are not traditional Uygur attire, the spokesman said yesterday.

Maimaiti, a street vendor who was among dozens of eyewitnesses of the violence, said that all the attackers were Uygur men aged from 20 to 35. They were carrying cardboard boxes with weapons inside and walked towards the Nuerbage police station before they hacked a Uygur police assistant to his death at the front gate and stormed into the station on Monday morning.

'At the top of his angry voice, with an accent from either Kashgar or Aksu, one of them shouted some slogans, of which I recognised only some words, against the recent ban on women's black veils and 'Arbaryi', a dark robe dressing a woman head-to-toe in black,' said the middle-aged man. He said the attacker repeated this aspiration at least three times.

What Maimaiti said was echoed by another witness, who declined to be named for fear of political reprisal. Giving no details, the ethnic Uygur man said in broken Putonghua that he had heard similar slogans about the restriction of women's black veils.

A girl from Moyu, a county under Hotan's jurisdiction, said the authorities in her hometown had barred women from wearing dark veils since May or June, while another woman in her 20s in Hotan said that all the shops at the Grand Bazaar had been banned from selling veils that were dark in colour for about three months.

'Some say the authorities imposed such a ban on veils because some people had committed crimes, including murders or robberies, under the protection of veils on their faces,' said the mother of two.

A young Uygur girl said she was not interested in the black outfits and veils, but noted that they have become more common among older women. The spokesman also said: 'In our point of view, these kind of women have been blindly affected by extreme religious thought.'

'The black and loose robes enable potential attackers to hide their weapons and, hence, pose a security threat to the safety of the public,' he said. The Hotan government had launched a campaign to encourage women to avoid such clothing, he said, using slogans telling them to 'show off their pretty looks and let their beautiful long hair fly'.

However, the campaign yielded little success. The spokesman said that the government began talking to religious leaders this month, and had asked them to request women to stop wearing black veils with black robes, especially in public.