China said yesterday a police operation to free hostages in the restive Xinjiang region had left seven “terrorists” dead, but an exile group described the incident as a desperate protest by local Uighurs.
The incident is the latest reported violent confrontation in the region — home to about 9 million Turkic-speaking Uighurs, who have long bristled under Chinese rule — since three deadly attacks in July left dozens dead.
The Xinjiang government said on its official Weibo account that a “violent terrorist group” kidnapped two people in the northwestern region’s remote Pishan County late on Wednesday night, prompting a stand-off with police.
During the stand-off, the kidnappers killed one police officer and wounded another. Police opened fire and killed seven of the suspects, and wounded and arrested four others, it added.
The two hostages were rescued, it said, without providing further details. It did not say whether the kidnappers were Uighurs.
However, Dilxat Raxit, spokesman for the World Uyghur Congress, an exile group, described the incident as a protest by local Uighurs prompted by mounting discontent over a police crackdown and religious repression.
He said seven Uighurs were “publicly” shot dead, three seriously wounded and another four lightly hurt, and added authorities were confiscating people’s mobile phones yesterday.
“The local government recently started a ‘strike hard’ campaign, which resulted in the disappearance of several people. They were taken away by armed forces, who refused to say where they were [going],” he said. “The local government has also restricted local religious activities.”
Pishan police and the Xinjiang government refused to comment when contacted.