Chinese media has demanded strict punishment for those involved in last Monday’s Tiananmen attack, saying the country’s security should be maintained at all cost.
But rights groups and analysts added a note of caution on Thursday, pointing out that there was lack of clear evidence to suggest that it was carried out by hardened terrorists and not by a group with individual grievances.
Activists were concerned about the suspects being tortured for confessions.
Police in Beijing had arrested five men following Monday’s incident where a SUV drove into a crowd, burst into flames killing five persons including the three occupants at the Tiananmen Square, a site of immense political significance in China.
The suspects were identified with names that suggested that they were from the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR) in China’s far west and home to some 8 million Muslim Uyghurs. The three in the vehicle were from the same family: a man, his wife and his mother.
Identified by names that suggest that they were also Uyghurs, police said the three had carried out a planned, terror attack. Following the incident and arrests, security had been further tightened in the remote province, a BBC report said.
But information released by the government until now does not clear all doubts.
“I haven't seen any information that indicates clearly why this case was not the fact of a disgruntled individual/family, as opposed to the execution of a terrorism plot in a larger strategy,” Nicholas Bequelin from Human Rights Watch told HT.
“The interesting information to emerge is that the people in the car are supposedly a family, which means it does not look like the work of an organised, transnational terrorist network. Carrying knives and machetes and setting fire to the car with petrol (if true) suggest a low-tech incident committed by individuals with grievances,” David Tobin, lecturer on politics, University of Glasgow, with a focus on Uyghur identity and politics, told HT.
Both said the official statements on the incident could not be verified – and that was the problem with the picture carefully put up by the government.
“However, these grievances are not yet clear and we can't verify any of the official statements. For example, Xinhua is running with the official line that they had a ‘flag with extreme religious content’. We have no idea if this is true let alone what it actually means,” said Tobin.
But the available information was enough for the Chinese state media to demand stern action against the suspects.
“A few religious extremists harbor the ill intention of separating the Xinjiang Uygur autonomous region from its motherland. They have already organised a number of terrorist attacks in the northwestern autonomous region, which have resulted in the loss of more than 200 lives over the years… What they should have expected is they will go down in history as murderers not heroes,” China Daily said in an opinion piece.
Such an attack is a crime against humanity, the city's official Beijing Daily said in a commentary. The government should spare no effort to ensure Beijing's safety, it added.
"Violent terrorist crime is the shared enemy of all humanity, the shared enemy of all ethnic groups in the country, and it must be severely punished under the law," said the commentary.
On the condition of the arrested suspects, Bequelin said: “At this point our foremost concern is the risk of torture of the Uyghur suspects in detention, given the fact that the police seems to be working out of a pre-determined theory.”