BEIJING — Chinese authorities said Tuesday that they had taken 718 people into custody in connection with last month’s ethnic riots in the western region of Xinjiang, but an official with an ethnic Uighur exile group said the true number was far higher.
The new report, released by the state-run Xinhua news agency, left it unclear whether the 718 detainees represented the total of suspects captured since the July 4 unrest, or were in addition to previous arrests and detentions. The government had previously said that more than 1,500 people had been detained after the riots.
Nor was it clear how many of the suspects have been charged with crimes. State radio, quoted by Reuters, reported on Tuesday that 83 suspects had been accused of crimes ranging from murder and arson to assault and disturbing the peace.
The Xinjiang riots in the provincial capital, Urumqi, killed at least 197 people, most of them ethnic Han Chinese, and injured about 1,100 others. The violence broke out after Uighur residents, the area’s original settlers, marched to protest the treatment of Uighur factory workers involved in a disturbance in eastern China.
The resulting unrest was the worst ethnic violence in China in at least a decade. Tuesday’s Xinhua report, a summary of progress in the official inquiry into the riots, quoted the head of Urumqi’s Public Security Bureau, Cehn Zhuangwei, as saying that 718 “criminals who disturbed the peace” had been detained. Investigators were pursuing nearly 600 important leads, he said, and were examining hundreds of photographs and video clips as well as DNA samples in an effort to track down those involved in the violence.
In Washington, Omar Kanat, the vice president of the World Uighur Congress, an exile group, said that the Chinese reports of detainees were understated, and that the new report of 718 detentions could only add to previously reported totals.
“Many people are calling us every day, and they say the number of arrests exceeds five, six thousand,” he said in a telephone interview. “We cannot confirm that. But we know that the numbers of arrests are much more than the Chinese figures.”
Most of the detained people are of Uighur descent, he said, adding that Uighurs in Xinjiang have told the organization in recent days about a wave of new detentions in Urumqi and surrounding areas.
From the New York Times