Chinese authorities have arrested a man accused of spreading online “rumours” about a recent outbreak of violence in China’s troubled Xinjiang region.
On 28 July Chinese state media reported that a “terror attack” in Yarkant County ended with a total of 96 deaths after a group armed with knives attacked a police station and government buildings.
However, exile groups associated with the region’s Uighur Muslim minority say that the bloodshed took place after security forces opened fire on demonstrators protesting the restriction of Ramadan celebrations.
The 22-year-old internet user arrested by authorities reported this version of events, but state media accused him of "fabricating horrifying details and deliberately incited ethnic hatred."
The man reportedly claimed that there had been extra-judicial killings carried out by security forces in several villages in the region prior to 28 July, speculating that this could have left as many as 3,000 to 5,000 dead.
State-controlled Tianshan News reports that the man confessed to inflating these figures to “create a bigger impact online” and “get other people’s attention”.
Independent verification of either version of events is near impossible, with the region tightly controlled and with no access given to foreign journalists.
Large parts of Xinjiang have reportedly been under a de facto state of emergency since May after an attack using explosives killed 31 and injured 94 shoppers at a crowded market.
Although it’s uncommon for groups to claim responsibility for these increasingly frequent attacks, Chinese authorities often blame the East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM) – a separatist group that wants full autonomy for Xinjiang, which they know as East Turkestan.
ETIM is recognised as a terrorist group by both the Chinese and US governments, and local authorities have recently launched a year-long campaign that includes increased police and army presence in several key cities in the area.