China arrests man for allegedly spreading rumours about deadly Xinjiang attack
Reuters and Nectar Gan
Police in Xinjiang have detained a man for allegedly spreading rumours on overseas websites that thousands of people were killed in violence in Shache county late last month.
The rumours had been picked up and circulated by "hostile foreign forces", the official website of the regional government said, naming the World Uygur Congress (WUC), an overseas activist group.
Xinjiang, home to the Turkic-speaking Muslim Uygur people, has suffered violence for years, which the government blames on Islamist militants or separatists, who, it says, want an independent state called East Turkestan.
According to state media, 59 "terrorists" were gunned down by security forces in Shache and 37 civilians were killed in attacks staged by masked militants on July 28.
The assailants attacked a police station and government offices in Elixku town before targeting civilians and vehicles in the nearby town of Huangdi, it says.
The WUC and human rights groups have offered a competing version of the events, saying the confrontation was the result of a crackdown on Uygurs observing the Islamic holy month of Ramadan.
Access to Xinjiang is tightly controlled, making an independent assessment of the situation almost impossible.
Police detained the 22-year-old suspect on Wednesday for circumventing online censors to post a fake account of the incident on overseas websites, the government's Tianshan.net reported. "So-called reports that were seriously inconsistent with the facts emerged on overseas websites, which fabricated horrifying details and deliberately incited ethnic hatred," it said.
The man's message had been "detected and used by hostile overseas forces including the World Uygur Congress" and "caused vicious impact", it added.
The report said the suspect often visited the website of Radio Free Asia, a news organisation that receives funding from the United States government.
The outlet has published reports on the incident quoting residents of villages in the area as saying pent-up frustration over invasive security checks, including house-to-house searches, might have triggered riots.
It has also quoted a village chief as saying police killed a family of five in Beshkent village near Elixku before the stand-off.
"I just wanted to attract people's attention and have an influence on public opinion," Tianshan.net quoted the suspect as saying. He learned about the attack on Radio Free Asia on July 29, it said. "I logged into my account on an overseas website, but couldn't find any information about it. So I thought I could make up a news story, post it online and draw attention," he was quoted as saying.
He then made up the rumour in a way that could "incite social hatred and ethnic opposition", and posted it on July 31, the report said. The next morning he was not satisfied with his article, so he added details and raised the figures, it said.
"When I first wrote it, [the situation] was not bad enough. It could not attract people's attention, nor could it inflame any sentiment," he was quoted as saying.