Did Muslim Veils Spark A Mysterious 2013 Massacre In Northwest China

A French reporter is the first Western journalist to get inside the village of Lukqun where in June 2013, 27 people were killed under unclear circumstances before access was shut off.

Armed Police soldiers in Urumqi
Armed Police soldiers in Urumqi
Ursula Gauther

LUKQUN — When a dozen attackers used sabres to kill 34 people last month in the Kunming train station, the Chinese press dubbed it the nation's own "9/11."

Beijing authorities have blamed Uyghur separatists coming from Xinjiang, an autonomous region of northwest China. Not surprisingly, when the Malaysia Airlines plane disappeared with 153 Chinese passengers on board, alleged "Uyghur terrorists" became the target once again.

The picture changes, however, when one heads north to Xinjiang, where ethnic conflicts have shaken the isolated region in recent years, as the Uyghur struggle has come head-to-head with a crushing Chinese military occupation.

Police patrols, tanks, troops and checkpoints are scattered along rural stretches of the ancient Silk Road. The megacity Urumqi, meanwhile, could rightfully be called the capital of video surveillance. After inter-ethnic riots in 2009, thousands of cameras were installed throughout the city's public spaces. On the roads, every 20 meters, security gates film every passing car, bicycle and pedestrian.

It took us some time to find someone who would speak to us, but we finally met Sidik. (His name has been changed.) Since he retired, this former teacher says he feels less controlled, though he cannot stop himself from looking at every person walking by us.

"Spies are everywhere," he says, lowering his voice. "Out of every 5 Uyghur, at least 2 are informers. Why? For money: they can earn 1.800 RMB ($290) per month, plus 300 RMB ($48) everytime they inform on someone."

At every corner, one can begin to identify informers monitoring the pedestrians and reporting anything unusual to the local police. "There is also a bonus for the police officers themselves everytime a "terrorist" is identified," assures Sidik, "But a so-called "terrorist" may be just a petty thief. It can get out of control and young men sometimes do not get out alive."

A cover-up in Lukqun?

But there was a major incident ten months ago that until now has gone largely unreported. On June 26, 2013, in the village of Lukqun, southeast of Urumqi, 37 were killed in clashes between locals and the authorities. According to Chinese television, it was an attack led by "fanatical jihadist terrorists" who wanted to "spread hatred and chaos in a pacific region." The media talked about connections to Syrian terrorists but did not mention any ethnic conflict. In the following days and weeks, any foreign journalist who tried to go there was denied access.

Last month, we managed to enter Lukqun, managing to evade the checkpoints that still block access. Once inside the village, nobody wanted to answer our questions at first. Only a young wine-grower nodded when we asked him to confirm the number of casualties. "Many, many villagers were killed," he added.

In another village, a young Uyghur farmer named Emin and another young man recounted the same facts. What they say triggered the attack was the arrest of a group of young women who had gone out in public wearing veils, although it is forbidden to do so by law.

After their husbands came to the police station, the discussion escalated and men from both sides were killed, villagers recount. Other Muslims decided to attack the "pagan", i.e. the Han Chinese officers, before a more widespread rebellion by the locals. Authorities responded by calling in "special forces," led by tanks and helicopters that locals say fired indiscriminately at villagers, killing and injuring dozens. For 10 days, the village was cut off from the rest of the world and nobody heard of this incident.

Foreigners in their own country

The dissident writer Wang Lixiong is one of the rare Han Chinese who knows and loves the people of Xinjiang. A high rate of unemployment, economic marginalization, religious repression and cultural humiliation: these were caused by the political measures Beijing imposed on the region, Wang argues.

The development of the oil industry in the region should have helped the Uyghur but instead, only the Han have benefited from it, prompting even more to come to settle in Xinjiang. In 1949, the Han made up 7% of the whole population. Today, it's nearly 40%.

"If the Chinese authorities continue to antagonize them, there will be even more extremists," says Wang. "Xinjiang risks turning into the Chechnya of China."

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A Mother In Spain Denied Child Custody Because She Lives In Rural Area

A court in Spain usurps custody of the one-year-old boy living with his mother in the "deep" part of the Galicia region, forced to instead live with his father in the southern city of Marbella, which the judge says is "cosmopolitan" with good schools and medical care. Women's rights groups have taken up the mother's case.

A child in Galician countryside

Laure Gautherin

A Spanish court has ordered the withdrawal of a mother's custody of her one-year-old boy because she is living in the countryside in northwestern Spain, where the judge says the child won't have "opportunities for the proper development of his personality."

The case, reported Monday in La Voz de Galicia, has sparked outrage from a women's rights association but has also set off reactions from politicians of different stripes across the province of Galicia, defending the values of rural life.

Judge María Belén Ureña Carazo, of the family court of Marbella, a city on the southern coast of 141,000 people, has ordered the toddler to stay with father who lives in the city rather than with his mother because she was living in "deep Galicia" where the child would lack opportunities to "grow up in a happy environment."

Front page of La Voz de Galicia - October 25, 2021

Front page of La Voz de Galicia - Monday 25 October, 2021

La Voz de Galicia

Better in a "cosmopolitan" city?

The judge said Marbella, where the father lives, was a "cosmopolitan city" with "a good hospital" as well as "all kinds of schools" and thus provided a better environment for the child to thrive.

The mother has submitted a formal complaint to the General Council of the Judiciary that the family court magistrate had acted with "absolute contempt," her lawyer told La Voz de Galicia.

The mother quickly accumulated support from local politicians and civic organizations. The Clara Campoamor association described the judge's arguments as offensive, intolerable and typical of "an ignorant person who has not traveled much."

The Xunta de Galicia, the regional government, has addressed the case, saying that any place in Galicia meets the conditions to educate a minor. The Socialist party politician Pablo Arangüena tweeted that "it would not hurt part of the judiciary to spend a summer in Galicia."

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