Beijing: When attackers from China's minority Uighurs killed 37 people in a July rampage in far western Xinjiang, police responded by gunning down at least 59 of them. When three Uighurs allegedly killed a top state-appointed Muslim cleric, police shot dead two of them.
When security forces led a raid on 10 suspected Uighur terrorists, they fatally shot all but one.
The incidents are part of a pattern raising concerns that Chinese police are excessively using deadly force in their bid to prevent more attacks by Uighur militants, who have killed dozens of civilians in train stations and other public places over the past few years. In some cities, patrolling SWAT units have already been authorized to shoot dead suspected terrorists without warning.
An Associated Press review of articles by China's official Xinhua News Agency and other state media has found that at least 323 people have died in Xinjiang-related violence since April last year, when the unrest began to escalate. Nearly half of those deaths were inflicted by police in most cases, by gunning down alleged perpetrators who are usually reported as having been armed with knives, axes and, occasionally, vaguely-defined explosives.
Beijing's tight controls and monopoly on the narrative make it difficult to independently assess if the lethal action has been justified. And Chinese authorities prevent most reporting by foreign journalists inside Xinjiang, making it nearly impossible to confirm the state media numbers. Uighur exile groups and the U.S.-government funded broadcaster Radio Free Asia report far more violent incidents than Chinese state media do, and in some cases, higher death tolls and police shootings of Uighur protesters. But those reports are similarly hard to verify.
To understand just how tough it can be to determine whether China's hand is being forced or whether officials are recklessly lashing out at those who resist them consider this recent series of confrontations in Xinjiang: On Aug. 1, police cornered a group of alleged terrorists in an abandoned house and shot nine of them dead, arresting one. In June, police gunned down 13 "mobsters" who allegedly attacked a local police station. In April, checkpoint police fatally shot a teenage Uighur motorcyclist after he allegedly attempted to grab their guns.
In many cases, the government's accounts of violence are wildly divergent from overseas reports. Of the June incident, Uighur exiles said Uighur residents were simply protesting outside the police station when police fired at them and their truck, setting off a fire. In the teenager's case, RFA reported that he had been shot after running a red light.