Chinese police shot 28 Uighurs dead and captured one suspect who they believe was responsible for a deadly knife attack on a coal mine in the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region, according to state media reports on Friday. The killings took place over the course of a 56-day manhunt following an attack on a coal mine that left 16 people dead in Aksu in September, according to reports from the Xinjiang regional government's Tianshan web portal. Chinese police referred to the 28 Uighurs who were killed as a "terrorist group." However, World Uighur Congress spokesman Dilxat Rexit said that women and children were among those killed.
On Wednesday, Chinese police killed 17 people, including women and children, in the unstable, far northwestern province of Xinjiang. Radio Free Asia (RFA) reported that 17 suspects, including seven women and two children, were killed by Chinese police, citing government and local sources. One statement from the public security bureau described the operation as a "great victory in the war on terror," but this statement was quickly retracted, Chinese officials said.
On Saturday, state media microblogs published pictures provided by the Ministry of Public Security of Armed Police on what it called a 56-day mission "to root out" Uighurs in Xinjiang, though it offered no details about the target, only revealing that all the suspects had been killed. Some of the reports were later taken off the Internet. A spokesman for China's Foreign Ministry, the only government ministry that regularly answer questions from foreign reporters, said he knew nothing about the report.
In September, 16 people were killed and 18 others were injured in Urumqi, the capital of Xinjiang. Chinese officials say they have appealed to the international community for more help with its campaign against "militants" in Xinjiang. The government has made no public comment about the Sept. 18 attack at the Sogan coal mine in Aksu, with the RFA reporting that most casualties were from the Han Chinese majority and the knife-wielding "separatists." Among those killed in the attack were 11 civilians, three police officers and two members of the paramilitary police, Chinese state-run Xinhua reported. The U.S.-based RFA estimates that around 50 people have been killed.
Many Uighurs refer to China's Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region, the home to many ethnic minority groups, including the Turkic-speaking Uighur people, as East Turkestan. Uighurs are one of many Turkic-speaking ethnic groups in the region that are culturally and historically connected to Central Asia and not a part of China.
Uighurs have long been the target of attacks on human rights that left millions of people dead. According to a Uighur Human Rights Project report, 700 people were killed as a result of political activities last year.
The number of those arrested in connection with attacks has increased 95 percent compared to the previous year, to a total of 27,000. In mid-June 2015, it was widely reported that China has banned observing Ramadan in parts of Xinjiang for party members, civil servants, students and teachers. It was also reported that the state has restricted men from growing long beards, clamped down on religious education and exerted control over the entrances and exits of mosques. In January 2015 the ban was extended to include wearing burqas in public places. In 2014 the government issued warnings to employees and students not to fast during Ramadan. Wearing a headscarf while using public transportation, out in public or during a religious marriage ceremony was banned in 2014, with fines of about $353. The Chinese government also banned "radical behavior," which it defines as not drinking alcohol, not smoking and avoiding the consumption of non-halal foods. Despite this, China denies the abuse of human rights in Xinjiang and says its constitution guarantees religious freedom.
Uighurs have been fleeing in response to harsh Chinese restrictions in recent years, often through Southeast Asia. Human rights groups say the exodus is an attempt to escape repressive rule, which Beijing denies. Turkey is the destination of choice for many Uighurs seeking to leave China. The Turkish government is under intense public pressure to support Uighurs, which creates tension in Ankara's relationship with Beijing. Turkey has accepted over 500 Uighurs who have sought refuge in the country since the beginning of 2015.