Friends and family members of a Uyghur teenager whose body was found floating in a river in eastern China’s Zhejiang province say he was a victim of an attack by Han Chinese seeking revenge over recent deadly Uyghur raids on railway stations, contesting a ruling by the authorities that he had committed suicide.
They said that state security intervention in the case of Ibrahim Abdurahman, 16, and a student at a central middle school in Jiaxing city, had fueled suspicion that there was a cover-up following the discovery of his body in a river on May 1 by police in nearby Hangzhou.
The police have classified the case as suicide by drowning following the discovery of what they claimed to be a suicide note, which family members believe could have been faked, a Uyghur classmate told RFA’s Uyghur Service on condition of anonymity.
Abdurahman had been missing from school since April 27, the classmate said, and his family had journeyed to Jiaxing from their home in northwest China’s Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region two days later, after they were informed of his absence by the boy’s roommates.
His father, Abdurahman Odul, said that after he and his four brothers spent two days searching throughout the city, police called to inform him that his son’s body had been found.
“I saw three injuries to his head and to two his back,” Odul said.
“I asked why and [the police] said my son had jumped into the river to commit suicide and was injured that way, but I didn’t believe them. There were a lot of suspicious parts [to their story].”
Abdurahman’s uncle, Abdulhalik Odul, said that he had arrived to help his brother on April 30, and had searched through the boy’s belongings at his dorm in the hope of finding a reason to explain his absence, but had found nothing.
“I asked his roommates if the police had come to search through his things and they said no,” the uncle said, adding that the students in the neighboring dorm room had said the same.
“But after his body was found on May 1, the police said that they searched his room on April 28 and had found a suicide note which read, ‘Father, I am thinking to leave for a more peaceful place’.”
Odul said that police told him the letter had been found on Abdurahman’s bed and showed him a state security affidavit that included signatures from his roommates saying they had been there when the note was discovered.
“I wondered whether his roommates were lying to me or if the police had prepared a false document,” he said.
“But why would the students lie to me? And if the suicide note was found on the 28th, why did the police say nothing until May 1?”
He also wondered why state security officials had become involved in the matter.
“Is it a state security matter if a 16-year-old kid doesn’t return to school? Was he on a list from the state security apparatus?” he asked.
“I do not believe the note was written by Ibrahim.”
Odul said that he asked school management to let him review footage from a security camera in the dorm room to determine whether the police were telling the truth, but he was told that the cameras were not working that day.
Because city officials say they have proved Abdurahman drowned as a result of suicide, Odul said the boy’s school was absolved of any responsibility for his death, but he wondered what would have prompted “a good kid in every aspect” to kill himself.
“Was there any involvement of the school's education or management style? Why has that not been questioned?” he asked.
“Right now, we five [brothers] don’t know what to do. If we leave without doing anything, how can we face our family and community?”
Uyghurs who knew Abdurahman in Jiaxing said they believed he was a victim of retaliation for two recent and deadly attacks that state media has said were “acts of terrorism” linked to Uyghurs.
On April 30, three people were killed and 79 injured in a knife and bomb attack on a railway station in the Xinjiang capital Urumqi, as President Xi Jinping ended a visit to the restive region.
The Urumqi raid came two months after a group of attackers state media said were Uyghurs went on a stabbing spree at a railway station in the city of Kunming, capital of southwestern Yunnan province, leaving 29 people dead and 143 injured.
Abdurahman’s classmates told RFA that he might have been killed by a Han Chinese resident of the area who had family members that were injured at the Urumqi station attack, or by a “Han nationalist.”
“I cannot assume that he had any unhappiness in his life which would have forced him to suicide,” one student said, adding that he had never known Abdurahman to fight with anyone.
“I think he was killed by the Chinese, and the government is trying to cover it up so it will not become an ethnic issue by creating this suicide letter.”
Treated with ‘hatred’
A Uyghur trader who regularly does business in Jiaxing said that the environment had become dangerous for Uyghurs living in the city after the two recent attacks.
“After the Kunming and Urumqi incidents, the Chinese here are treating us with hatred—not just with disrespect like they did before,” he said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
“I’ve seen them looking at me with an anger as if they could eat me alive.”
The trader said that he believed Abdurahman did not die on April 28 when police said they had found the suicide note, but on the night of April 30 or even on May 1, “after the Urumqi train station attack.”
“He might have been killed by Chinese ultranationalists or by a family member of a victim who was among the injured in the Urumqi bomb attack,” he said.
“This is a form of revenge or they were trying to send us [Uyghurs] a signal: ‘Stay [in Xinjiang] or else you will die too’.”
Reported by Shohret Hoshur for RFA’s Uyghur Service. Translated by Mamtjan Juma. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.