Ethnic Uyghur Muslims are more and more often associated with the term “terrorist” in China. Local authorities and media outlets often define violent incidents in border regions as terrorist activity. This official definition has turned random individual criminal acts into the collective responsibility of an ethnic minority and resulted in the labeling of its members as terrorist suspects.
The latest officially defined “terrorist case” happened on November 16 2013 in Xinjian Bachu county. Eleven people were killed in a police station, two were local police officers and nine were Muslim Uyghurs from Bachu county.
The Xinjiang local authorities quickly defined the incident as a violent terrorist attack and claimed that stability was effectively restored as the nine violent assaulters were shot dead. However according to Radio Free Asia, people who surrounded the police station had managed to capture the young attackers alive while the police officers chose to shoot them dead on the spot. As all the witnesses aside from the police are dead, it keeps people wondering what had exactly happened inside the police station.
Chinese dissident Hu Ping raises a number of questions about the incident:
— Hu Ping胡平 (@HuPing1) November 17, 2013
What is the nature of the November 16 Bachu incident? It doesn't look like a guerrilla attack as they didn't have an escape plan. With the attackers’ weapons such as axes and knives being so primitive and ineffective at hurting police, it doesn't look like suicide attack. The nature is clear then. @IIham_Tohti
In reply to Hu Ping, IIham Tohti, an Uyghur university professor, stressed the need to revise the Chinese government's ethnic policy:
— 伊力哈木土赫提IlhamTohti (@Ilham_Tohti) November 17, 2013
@HuPing1 What happened there? What is the truth? Only crazy people would believe that they were terrorists. Similar incidents have happened so many times and we have yet to see any reflection. Nine people entered the police station in search of death? The authorities cannot figure out how to prevent that from happening again. Until now there has been no reflection on ethnic policy.
A few months ago in April, a similar ethnic clash happened in the same Bachu police station and the violence left 21 people dead, including 15 police officers and government officials. The incident was also defined as a terrorist assault.
Against the background of the establishment of a top-level national security committee (NSC), many believe that ethnic minorities in border areas will become the target of anti-terrorist security control. For example, Kai Lei, a media worker from pro-Chinese government newspapers Wenhui Bao, urged the NSC to adopt a hard-handed policy in districts such as Bachu:
[Eradicate the terrorist soil in Bachu] The establishment of the NSC has great significance in border security control. Should be more effective in cracking down on terrorists, separatist forces in border areas. Adopt preventive and hard-handed crackdown policies in those areas, such as Bachu, where terrorist assaults have taken place before.
Yet the definition of terrorist assault is highly problematic in China as anonymous writer from Uighurbiz.net, “Little grand father_Aike” pointed out. The writer compared two sets of incidents in 2013 to indicate the arbitrary definition of a violent terrorist assault: the June 7 Fujian bus station arson vs. the October 28 Beijing Tiananmen Jeep cash incident, and the August 25 Chengdu hospital assault vs. the November 16 Bachu police station assault.
The arson case in Fujian left 47 dead and 34 injured, and the police said it was committed by an angry and desperate individual and defined as a criminal case. The Beijing case resulting in five dead and 38 injured was defined an organized terrorist attack. Among the dead were the three Uyghur sitting inside the Jeep.
The writer pointed out that the very definition of the crimes has instigated different reactions to the criminals. In the first casex people see it as an individual act of insanity, but in the latter case as an ethnic-based organized terrorist act:
Because of the media and judiciary definition of the crime's nature, millions of Uyghur have to bear the terrorist label. If we are all Chinese, do you think this is fair? […] Now all over the country, whenever people talk about Xinjiang, they change their tone of voice. In summaryx they would say: Kill them all, kick them out, kill them and they would be humble. They are just a bunch of ungrateful people. Where is the conscience and ethics of the media? Doesn't using such a misleading [label] constitute a crime?
When comparing the Chengdu assault and the Bachu assault, even though the Chengdu one was well planned and specifically targeted at medical workers in a hospital, which resulted in five dead and 11 injured, the case was defined a random act of individuals, while the Bachu case, in which the nine assaulters were shot dead on the spot, was defined as a terrorist act:
[in the case of Chengdu] How come there isn't any ethnic reference and thug label? How come when similar incidents happen in Xinjiang, they get special treatment? How come the Uyghur enjoy such special treatment? Sichuan also benefits from the Western Development Project, but people there are not viewed as ungrateful beneficiaries of national policy who are good for nothing but creating chaos.
He urges authorities to reflect on the ethnic policy and help minorities establish a positive image of the ethnic group:
China is a multi-ethnic country. In order for the state to establish its legitimacy, you have to help different ethnic groups establish healthy and positive ethnic cultures and beliefs. I am a Uyghur, a Muslim and a Chinese. I spread a positive image for Xinjiang while I speak for Uyghur. I am not a thug, I am Chinese.