Was Needle Panic in China a Fake Frenzy?

The Toronto Star looks at whether recent reports of organized syringe attacks in Xinjiang, which subsequently sparked protests, are truth or rumor:

Demonstrations by frightened Chinese erupted in the Xinjiang capital last week amid claims that the region’s native Uighurs had launched a wave of politically motivated syringe attacks against Han Chinese.

But days after reports of the attacks in state media, credible evidence seems in short supply. Some are questioning whether there were any organized attacks at all.

[...] “Some of those who said they had been stabbed actually suffered from mosquito stings and other psychogenic reasons,” Xinhua said.

Other agency reports noted that of the four people officially charged last week, most were drug addicts involved in acts of plain criminality.

On her blog, Reuters reporter Lucy Hornby writes about the rumors floating around the streets of Urumqi:

The syringe scare was started by a police department text message last Monday, warning residents against attackers with syringes. Based on the indictments so far, some drug addicts had robbed a cab driver by threatening him with a syringe; another tried to fend off police who were trying to rescue them. And then there was a teenager who stuck a needle in a fruit seller’s buttock.

The government warned of a coordinated separatist attack. The effect of the text message, especially in buses crowded with Urumqi residents who are fearful and suspicious of each other, was panic. Over 500 people have gone to the police saying they were attacked; only 106 of them had a clear mark, bump or rash on their skin, official figures show.

But it’s not all hysteria. Those 106 people were pricked with something. Xinhua, the state news agency, said some were mosquito bites. But others were indeed injured, albeit slightly. Doctors, who reassured reporters that it was unlikely the attacks could spread AIDS, said that at least some of the verifiable injuries could be pin or sewing needle pricks.

So who is sticking needles into people? Angry copycats who got an idea from that text message? People who want to enjoy the fuss? People who want to arouse tension and strife in Urumqi, the divided city?

Xinhua, however, issued a report today calling the syringe attacks, “violent terrorist crimes…[and] organized and planned major adverse events.”

September 8, 2009 1:44 PM
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Categories: Society