Friends of an ethnic minority Uyghur teen motorcyclist who was shot dead a week ago by Chinese police after he ran a red light in the Xinjiang region have rejected government claims that he had tried to attack a police officer after he sped past two security checkpoints.
High school dropout Abdulbasit Ablimit, 17, died on the spot while two of his passenger friends were wounded after being shot from behind by policemen who went after them for the traffic violation in Kelpin county in Aksu prefecture on April 12, RFA had reported, quoting sources.
The violent police action triggered a public fury, with up to 500 Uyghurs marching and carrying Ablimit's body to the county office and demanding that the authorities explain the circumstances that led to the shooting and calling for action against the policeman who killed Ablimit, the sources had said.
Chinese state media however claimed on April 17 that Ablimit was shot after he sped past two consecutive security checkpoints and clashed with police officers.
The Tianshan web portal run by the government of the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region claimed a police officer "fired warning shots into the air,” after which Ablimit "assailed the officer and seized his firearm,” citing Aksu police. It did not say how the teenager was injured.
The Aksu government called Ablimit a "terrorist" on its website.
Abdulbasit Ablimit in an undated photo.
Ablimit's friends, however, said that he and six of them were returning home in three motorcycles after visiting another friend at the Kelpin county bazaar when police fired at him about three kilometers (nearly two miles) after he whizzed past a red traffic light.
They said he had gone too far for him to return to the checkpoint to disarm a police officer as claimed by the Chinese authorities.
“Abdulbasit had fled at least three kilometers away from the checkpoint. It was not possible for him to return to the checkpoint and attempt to grab the police officer’s weapon,” Yakupjan Abdureqip, who was among those who accompanied Ablimit, told RFA’s Uyghur Service.
“Abdulbasit passed the red light and fled when police ordered him to stop,” Abdureqip said, adding that his friend might have defied the police to avoid paying a fine.
“I know that he has tried to avoid paying fines because his family has financial problems—his father died while he was two years old, and his mother Amine has been taking care him and his brother and sister by working as a housekeeper,” he said.Separated
Ablimit—who was carrying two passengers—and the other friends who were on two motorbikes separated after he ran the red light, the friends said.
"Abdulbasit was speeding away and I saw the police hot on his trail. I didn’t witness the shooting but I can say that Abdulbasit was at least three kilometers from the township,” said another friend Yakupjan Rekip, 17, who had veered to a gas station when police were pursuing Ablimit.
Minutes later, Rekip said he saw police cars racing to the township hospital and when he went there to investigate, he heard Ablimit was shot.
"I cried when I heard he was shot," Rekip said, adding that he was immediately taken into police custody after he informed them that he was Ablimit's friend.
"They detained me for 24 hours and then released me because we did nothing wrong except not abiding the red-light signal,” Rekip said.Shot from behind
Kunahun, the head of the health department of Kelpin county and also one of the relatives of Ablimit's mother, said that based on the gunshot wound on Ablimit, he was shot from behind.
The gunshot, he said, had pierced through Ablimit's back into his chest.
“The wound at the back of his body was much bigger than the wound in his chest," Kunahun said. “There is no justification for the authorities to say that Abdulbasit attacked the police."
Another source, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said he heard that Ablimit could have been shot either while he was speeding away or while he crashed his motorbike after one of his two passengers— Burhanidin and Merdan—jumped off the machine.
"Burhanidin jumped off the motorbike while he heard gunshots and Abdulbasit lost control of his vehicle and fell into a pit where the police shot the boy," the source said.Anger
The shooting sparked anger among family members and relatives of Ablimit and his friends, as well as other residents, all of whom had marched to the county office carrying Ablimit's body wrapped in white cloth to protest the police action.
The fate of the two wounded passengers is not known.
Their families said they could not get any information of their whereabouts from the police.
"I don’t know where they are and why they have not come to school," said Gheni Abdukerim, director of the Kelpin No.1 High School attended by the duo.
The Washington-based Uyghur American Association (UAA) called Ablimit's death an "extrajudicial killing," saying "China’s unlawful killing of Uyghurs has increased alarmingly in the past year."
“The unlawful killing of Abdulbasit Ablimit is not an isolated tragedy," UAA President Alim Seytoff said in a statement.
"That a young man would lose his life over a traffic violation demonstrates the appallingly little regard China holds for the lives of its Uyghur citizens,” he said.
"A clear pattern has emerged in East Turkestan in which Uyghurs are unlawfully killed by state agents with impunity, and anyone who questions this state brutality is punished," he said.Crackdown
Many Uyghurs refer to Xinjiang as East Turkestan, as the region was brought under Chinese control following two short-lived East Turkestan republics in the 1930s and 1940s.
China has intensified a sweeping security crackdown in Xinjiang, where according to official figures about 100 people, mostly Uyghurs, are believed to have been killed over the past year for alleged links to terrorism and separatism.
Many Uyghurs complain that they are subject to political, cultural, and religious repression for opposing Chinese rule in the resource-rich region.Reported by Shohret Hoshur for RFA's Uyghur Service. Translated by Shohret Hoshur. Written in English by Parameswaran Ponnudurai.