Standoff Over Death in Custody
In China’s tense Xinjiang region, could a suspicious death spark more ethnic violence?
Chinese paramilitary police trucks drive through downtown Urumqi, July 9, 2009.
HONG KONG—Relatives of a man who died in police custody in China’s remote Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region are in a tense standoff with authorities over their demand for an inquiry into how he died, villagers and the local police chief said.
One villager, contacted by telephone, said eight trucks of soldiers and two other armed vehicles had surrounded the man’s family home in Lengger [in Chinese, Langan] village in Qorghas [in Chinese, Huocheng]county, Ili prefecture.
Surrounding streets were blockaded, and another witness said police told him to remain inside when he tried to walk several blocks to Tursun’s family home.
“The police are asking us to bury the body early in the morning, otherwise they said they will bury him themselves,” Haji Memet, a relative of Shohret Tursun, 31, said. “We want to find out how he was killed.”
“We are asking the authorities to investigate—we want photos taken of his bruised body, we want justice, we want whoever killed our son to be punished,” he said.
Police returned Tursun’s body to his family at 2 p.m. Saturday, relatives said.
Tursun, a member of the Uyghur ethnic minority, was among some 40 men from Qorghas detained around the time of deadly protests July 5 in the regional capital, Urumqi.
The protests by Uyghurs, a largely Muslim Turkic people, followed alleged official mishandling of earlier ethnic clashes in far-away Guangdong province.
The July 5 protest sparked days of deadly rioting in Urumqi, pitting Uyghurs against majority Han Chinese, and ending with a death toll of almost 200, by the government’s tally.
A map of China's northwestern Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region. Credit: RFA
The Langer police chief, who identified himself as Enver, said police were trying to convince the family to bury Tursun early Sunday.
The village imam, Alim Kari, described Tursun’s body as badly disfigured but said he was required to urge the family to bury Tursun.
“I saw the dead body—it was bruised and dark all over,” Kari said. “All the family was crying…his mother was slapping herself. The whole neighborhood is in chaos.”
“I don’t know how the body was injured, how it has so many bruises. The authorities are asking the imam, the elders, relatives, and neighbors to persuade the family to bury him. I am a peasant and I don’t know much about the law.”
“I have to do what the government asks me to do…and I have to believe them. We are working hard to persuade the family to bury Shohret Tursun early Sunday morning,” Kari said.
“After the family’s strong opposition, the authorities agreed to bury him Sunday morning. This has been confirmed and the funeral attendants have been selected and invited,” he said.
Earlier death alleged
About 10 days ago, relatives said, Tursun—along with Pazilat Akbar, Rabigul, Eli Hesenjan, and more than 35 others—were transferred from Urumqi to the Qorghas county jail.
Another villager, also contacted by telephone, said another man, 22-year-old Dilshat Ismayil, was beaten to death by police July 29 after he ran away from police trying to detain him.
That account couldn’t immediately be confirmed.
Uyghurs say they have long suffered ethnic discrimination, oppressive religious controls, and continued poverty and joblessness despite China's ambitious plans to develop its vast northwestern frontier.
Xinjiang is a strategically crucial vast desert territory that borders Russia, Mongolia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and India.
The region has abundant oil reserves and is China's largest natural gas-producing region.
Original reporting by Shohret Hoshur for RFA’s Uyghur service, translation by Alim Kerim. Uyghur service director: Dolkun Kamberi. Written and produced for the Web in English by Sarah Jackson-Han.
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