BEIJING (Reuters) - China has detained a man in its unruly western Xinjiang region for spreading what it said were Internet rumours about an attack in July in which nearly 100 people were killed, state media said on Monday.
Authorities have said 59 “terrorists” were gunned down by security forces in Xinjiang’s Shache county and 37 civilians were killed in attacks by masked militants on July 28, one of the worst bouts of unrest in the region in years.
Xinjiang, home to the Muslim Uighur people, has been beset for years by violence that the government blames on Islamist militants or separatists who it says want an independent state called East Turkestan.
The official news website of the Xinjiang government said police detained a 22-year-old suspect for circumventing China’s online censorship system, known as the Great Firewall, to post a fake account of the incident on overseas websites.
“So-called reports that were seriously inconsistent with the facts emerged on overseas websites, which fabricated horrifying details and deliberately incited ethnic hatred,” the website, Tianshan.net, reported.
It said the rumour, which included graphic depictions of extreme violence by police, had been circulated by “hostile foreign forces” and had an “evil influence”.
Tianshan said police detained the suspect, a man with a Uighur name who later confessed, on Aug. 6.
“I didn’t care if what I was writing was real or not. I just wanted to attract people’s attention and have an influence on public opinion,” it quoted the man as saying.
According to China’s official account of the unrest, militants attacked a police station and government offices in Elixku town before moving on to the nearby town of Huangdi, targeting civilians and smashing vehicles as they went.
However, authorities only gave a detailed account of the incident days later. It is unclear why the government waited to announce details about casualties, although bad news has sometimes been covered up or delayed in China in the past.
China tightly controls visits to the region by foreign journalists, making an independent assessment of the situation almost impossible.
Exiled Uighur groups and human rights activists say the government’s repressive policies and discrimination in Xinjiang, including controls on Islam, have provoked unrest, a claim Beijing denies.
Reporting by Michael Martina; Editing by Paul Tait