Status of Uyghur Children in Detention Unknown Following Border Clash

February 1, 2012

Five Uyghur children from a county in Hoten, Xinjiang, are in detention, following a December 2011 clash between a group of Uyghurs and security officials. Local sources say the children were part of a group attempting to leave China due to religious persecution, while official Chinese sources describe the group as terrorists traveling to Pakistan for training. According to multiple accounts, a public security officer was stabbed to death after officials confronted the group, and security forces then opened fire. Official sources report four people in the group were killed and four wounded and taken into detention. Local sources say those in detention are five children, at least four of whom range in age from 7 to 17, and that information on their status and health conditions is not known. Security in the area reportedly remains tight as authorities have attempted to restrict the flow of information about the events and detained family members and others in the aftermath of the clash. The news follows other recent incidents that Chinese authorities have described as terrorist attacks, while other sources have reported facts that differ from the official accounts.

 The legal status and health condition of a group of Uyghur children in detention remain unknown, following a reported clash in Pishan (Guma) county, Hoten district, Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, at which the children were present, according to a series of reports from Radio Free Asia (RFA) based on interviews with residents and local officials. Sources cited by RFA described the incident as a clash between public security officials and a group of Uyghurs attempting to flee China due to religious repression. Official Chinese media sources reported the incident as police intervention, after members of a terrorist group took two people hostage.

Chinese Media Reports "Terrorist" Group Takes Hostages
According to December 29, 2011, Xinhua reports (English, Chinese) based on XUAR government and Communist Party sources, public security officers intervened after a "violent terrorist" group took two people hostage in Pishan county on the evening of December 28. After the hostage-takers "resisted arrest," officers began to shoot, killing seven members of the group and injuring four others, who were taken into custody. The hostage-takers killed one officer and wounded another, according to the reports. A December 30 article from the Global Times, citing an anonymous local official, reported that the group consisted of 15 people who were en route to Central Asia "to receive jihadist training" and who took two herders hostage to guide them after they became lost. Although the earlier Xinhua report in Chinese said the hostages were rescued, apparently in the course of the shootout (a process described as being "freed" in the English report), the Global Times article reported the same official account of a rescue but also reported a seemingly different account, confirmed by a XUAR government official cited in the article. According to this second account, the herders taken hostage "escaped and contacted local police," apparently before the shootout. The Global Times report does not address the apparent discrepancy.

Local Accounts Conflict with Chinese State Media
Accounts by local public security officers and residents, cited in reports from RFA, differed from official accounts in Xinhua and the Global Times. A public security source cited in a December 29 RFA article said that police stopped a group of Uyghur young people en route to Pakistan and opened fire after one youth stabbed a police officer. The source did not know if hostages had been taken. In an interview cited in a December 30 RFA report, a public security officer reported that the group fleeing consisted of villagers who planned to seek asylum outside China. According to the officer's account, public security officers, acting on a tip about their plans, intercepted the group and tried to persuade them to return home. After an officer caught hold of a woman in the group, a public security officer was stabbed, and other officers "took over and conducted the operation," according to the account. A leader in the village where many in the group were from, cited in the same article, reported the group was leaving due to religious persecution. One person killed in the clash reportedly had been previously detained for three months for participating in an "illegal" religious class. A villager cited in the article also suggested that the group left due to pressure on their religious practices and that the clash ensued after public security officers took hold of one of the women in the group. A January 6 report from RFA (in Uyghur) noted the presence of children in the group (see below for further discussion) but also reported the ages of six of the seven people killed as ranging between 26 and 40 years old. A December 29 RFA article (in Uyghur) raised the question of proportionate use of force against the group, citing a local official who said group members had knives and sticks, but who argued that this appeared as a heavy threat to the police. (For additional information, see UN Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms by Law Enforcement Officials.)

Official media has not addressed the discrepancy between the initial reporting on the events, based on XUAR government sources, and information provided by local residents, including local officials. Official accounts have differed from those of witnesses and non-official sources in past events, as well. As noted in the Congressional-Executive Commission on China 2011 Annual Report, after the government reported that a premeditated terrorist attack on a police station took place in Hoten district in July 2011, some people in Hoten contradicted the government's account, and some sources reported that the incident involved authorities suppressing a protest that started at another location. A September 28, 2008, New York Times article noted an incident in Kashgar district that authorities described as a terrorist attack against paramilitary officers using a truck and explosives, an account that foreign tourists who witnessed the account disputed.

Status of Detainees Unknown Amid Tight Security Measures
Although official media reports indicated that four people in the group had been detained, RFA articles reported that five children—including those between 7 and 17 years old—were in apparent custody, while a 6-year-old child with the group fleeing China had gone missing. (RFA January 8; January 6 in Uyghur; December 30, citing a local source.) A local Communist Party official reportedly said that the six-year-old had taken part in the clash by throwing stones at officers, according to the January 8 report. A public security officer reported in a January 2 RFA article that a minor thought to be 17 years old had been shot and seriously injured, and said all five children were in custody in the county public security bureau.

It is unclear on what legal basis, if any, the children remain in custody and what their current health status is. The whereabouts of the sixth child remains unknown. Although one official reported that the five children were in custody at the county public security bureau, as noted above, it is unclear if family members have been informed. In the case of detention by public security officials, Article 64(2) of China's Criminal Procedure Law mandates that family members receive notification. Article 37(b) of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, to which China is a state party, states that detention "shall be in conformity with the law and shall be used only as a measure of last resort and for the shortest appropriate period of time[.]" See also detailed information in United Nations Rules for the Protection of Juveniles Deprived of their Liberty.

In addition, security measures in the area reportedly remain tight. A school director cited in the January 2 RFA report said that family members of a nine-year-old boy taken in custody during the clash have been detained, while a World Uyghur Congress (WUC) spokesperson cited in the December 29 RFA article reported additional detentions within the county and orders for hospital personnel at the facility where the injured and dead were taken not to speak about the events. A December 29 WUC press release also cited local residents who said authorities were taking cell phones to stop people from transmitting information about the events.

For more information on conditions in the XUAR, see Section IV-Xinjiang in the CECC 2011 Annual Report.