Urumqi (AsiaNews) - Two of the six Uyghur men who allegedly tried to hijack a plane in China's troubled northwestern Xinjiang region have died in hospital under police guard from the injuries they sustained when passengers subdued them. Exile groups have disputed the official version of event, blaming torture instead.
According to Chinese officials, the six tried to hijack a plane after it took off from Hotan airport bound for Urumqi, in the Xinjiang Autonomous Region, but were stopped by passengers and crew. The plane returned to the Hotan airport and the six were taken into police custody.
The Germany-based World Uyghur Congress (WUC), which monitors human and religious rights in Xinjiang, has a different version of events, saying that the plane turned around after a fight broke out between Uyghur and Han Chinese passengers over seating arrangements.
The "authorities captured six people and had a chance to bring them to court to show what really happened in the incident. If China were a country ruled by law, they could have done this," WUC general secretary Dolkun Isa said.
The northern province of Xinjiang has been a sore spot for China's Communist government. Since it was annexed under Mao Zedong, its largest group, ethnic Uyghur Muslims, have sought to re-establish the region's independence as East Turkestan. Beijing has countered this push by a policy of total control, banning the local language and preventing minors from attending mosques.
The six suspects-Musa Yusup, Ababekri Ibrahim, Ershidinqari Imin, Memeteli Yusup, Yasin Memet, and Omer Imin-are all from the southern city of Kashgar, ranging in age between 26 and 30 years. The names of the two who died have not been released. Various sources claim they died under torture in an attempt to extract a confession of terrorism.
On 1 July, Zhou Yongkang, head of the Political and Legislative Affairs Committee of the Communist Party of China Central Committee, condemned in a speech suspicious deaths in prison and the use of violence against detainees. For him, "law enforcement must always and under all circumstances uphold the positions of the central government, centred on President Hu Jintao."