On April 23rd, violence broke out in China’s far-west Xinjiang region leaving 21 people dead, two men have been sentenced to death for the violent acts and three more jailed.
The acts took place in a town in the Kashgar prefecture, and fifteen officials or security personnel were among the 21 people found dead.
This was a planned attack by a “violent terrorist group”, China said.
There is a dispute made by other accounts attributing the confrontation to ethnic tensions in the restive region.
Xinjiang is home to the Muslim Uighur minority, who make up about 45% of the region’s population but say an influx of Han Chinese residents has marginalized their traditional culture.
Violent incidents in Xinjiang on Uighur extremists seeking autonomy for the region are often blamed by the authorities.
Meanwhile, Uighur activists accuse Beijing of over-exaggerating the threat to justify heavy-handed rule.
To verifying any kind of reports from Xinjiang is difficult.
While foreign journalists are allowed to travel to the region, they frequently face intimidation and harassment when attempting to verify news of ethnic rioting or organized violence against government authorities.
One of the Journalists that visited the site of the incident to tried to clarify details that were taken by the police to a government compound and he was subsequently ordered to leave.
The two men sentenced to death by Kashgar’s Intermediate People’s Court on murder and terrorism charges were named in state media as Musa Hesen, the co-founder of the “terrorist group”, and Rehman Hupur.
Three other men were jailed for terms ranging from nine years to life.
The group had been “carrying out illegal religious activities (and) promoting religious extremism”, the media reported, citing a court statement. They had also “made 10 explosive devices and carried out explosive tests”, it said.
The violence was sparked when three officials saw suspicious behavior at a house, Chinese reports say.
A spokesperson for the World Uighur Congress, an umbrella organization of Uighur groups, also disputed the government’s version, saying the clashes were a result of a government clean-up campaign.
The incident comes amid rumbling ethnic tensions between the Muslim Uighur and Han Chinese communities.
In 2009 almost 200 people – mostly Han Chinese – were killed in deadly rioting in Xinjiang’s capital, Urumqi.
There have been sporadic eruptions of violence since then – in June 2013, 35 people were killed in rioting in the township of Lukqun, about 200km (120 miles) south-east of Urumqi.
Written By: Landi Bezuidenhout