Uygur resentment at 'unfair' practices

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 23 July, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 23 July, 2011, 12:00am


Hotan appears to have returned to calm following a fatal attack on a police station on Monday, with the alleged assailants either dead or arrested, but an undercurrent of ethnic tension remains in the Xinjiang city.

Abudu, a 35-year-old motor cart operator, says quite a number of Uygurs in Hotan hold subtle grudges against the Han, the main ethnic group on the mainland, for some practices that the Uygurs regard as unfair.

'For instance, if a Uygur man is involved in a brawl with a few Han men, police officers will detain the Uygur without doubt,' Abudu said yesterday. He also alleged that poverty-stricken Uygurs had to bribe local officials, both Han and Uygurs, with 70 yuan (HK$85) in order to apply for an identity card.

However, the attack on the police station in the heart of Hotan, which left at least 18 people dead, was seemingly targeted at the authorities rather than the Han.

According to Tursunay, a 32-year-old teacher in a middle school in Hotan, 'thugs' barged into the room in which she, along with a woman Uygur friend, was submitting application forms to a Uygur policewoman.

'Three or four of the thugs ignited a few petrol bombs and hurled them into the room of around 100 square feet before boarding the door and locking it up,' Tursunay said. 'The room was filled with black smoke, and we were so scared. It was a narrow escape; we managed to get out with the help of street vendors who smashed the windows and removed the iron bars for us.'

Although the bloody incident was over and most of the alleged assailants had either been shot dead or arrested, discontent remained in the hearts of some Uygurs.

Aybulak, a woman in her 40s who owns a boutique at the Grand Bazaar in downtown Hotan, said many of her fellow Uygurs had told her that what had angered the attackers were new measures that tried to outlaw the black veils and robes that the Muslim women wore.

She denied an official claim that the outfits became popular only after riots took place in the region in 2009.

'That kind of dressing boasts a long history for millions of Uygurs in Xinjiang... We call those who wear such outfits Ah Ji to show them our respect.

'If [the officials] say the purpose of barring women from wearing black Islamic robes is to prevent them from hiding weapons under their clothing, how come they force male Uygur adults to cut their beards, especially those working in the government?' she asked.

She also said male civil servants had to sneak into mosques to worship and were not allowed to pray in mosques openly on Fridays.

Abudu said the negative sentiment was the reason for the attack.

'We Uygurs tolerate everything but suppression of our religion,' he said. 'That's why the attackers risked their lives and replaced the national flag with a black one with a crescent on it.'