Chinese authorities have launched a crackdown on a village in the Xinjiang region where an ethnic minority Uyghur teen motorcyclist was shot dead by police after he ran a red light, detaining more than 50 people who had publicly protested against the killing, according to family members.
They also expressed concern that three key eyewitnesses of the April 12 shooting death of high school dropout Abdulbasit Ablimit, 17, in Kelpin county in Aksu prefecture have disappeared and are believed to have been taken into police custody, and that the authorities have swiftly buried Ablimit in a secret location and refused to inform the family about the burial site for prayers.
“In the last two weeks or so, the authorities have detained more than 50 relatives and other villagers and accused them of being main participants of a protest” questioning the circumstances in which Ablimit died, his mother Aminem told RFA’s Uyghur Service.
Up to 500 Uyghurs had marched, carrying Ablimit's body, to the county office to protest the police shooting, demanding that the authorities take action against those who had fired at him.
Chinese state media have claimed that Ablimit was shot after he sped past two consecutive security checkpoints and clashed with police officers, but friends who were with him on the day of the incident debunked the claim.
“They detained several people every day. I heard that some of them were taken to the Aksu city detention center,” Aminem said, lamenting that she could not even organize prayers for her dead son because “all of our relatives have been detained and there are very few men left in our village now.”
Ruling Chinese Communist party propaganda groups from Kelpin county and Aksu prefecture have also been going to Qum’eriq village “every day” to constantly monitor the situation, she said.
Ablimit's friends had told RFA that he and several others were traveling on separate 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.
Three witnesses missing
Abdulbasit Ablimit in an undated photo.
Ablimit had carried two others—who were believed also shot—on his motorbike during the incident but their whereabouts are not known, and they are thought to be in police custody, his sister Beliqiz told RFA.
“The two teen boys who rode on my brother’s motorcycle have disappeared. One of them is Merdan,” she said.
“A friend of my brother said that they were probably wounded and detained by the armed police because they were the only witnesses on the spot,” said Beliqiz, who had traveled to Qum’eriq from Urumqi, where she is studying at Xinjiang University.
“During my stay in Kelpin, I heard that a Uyghur farmer also disappeared that night,” she said. “It seems that he was irrigating his farm under the moonlight when he heard the gunfire. So, he was also detained by the armed police.”
Beliqiz said that her brother’s friend had also told her that two of them who were traveling with Ablimit had gone to investigate gunshots when they came across armed policemen herding people into a police vehicle.
“The two teenagers were terrified and hid at once. It was a full-moon night. They discovered there were seven or eight [armed policemen] and all of them were Han Chinese,” she said.
“After the armed police left, they found Ablimit’s “totally destroyed motorcycle covered with oil and blood and 18 bullet shells around the motorcycle in a ditch.” Secret burial
Aminem said police had seized Ablimit’s body from the family and buried him in a secret place following mass protests outside government offices.
“When the police delivered my son’s body to my home in the morning of April 13, I saw three bullet holes in it—his right leg, his lower back and his upper back,” she said. “The wound on the upper back was linked to a big hole in his chest,” she said, indicating that the bullet had pierced through the body.
Ablimit’s death was the latest fatal shooting involving Uyghurs in Xinjiang, where Chinese authorities have intensified a sweeping security crackdown.
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 in the troubled region.
Many Uyghurs complain that they are subject to political, cultural, and religious repression for opposing Chinese rule in the resource-rich region.
Aminem, who had been working as a domestic helper after her husband died in 1999 during a job hunt in Saudi Arabia, said she was heartbroken by Ablimit’s death, as he had dropped out of school merely to help the family make ends meet.
“When I heard that Abdulbasit was shot by Chinese police for running a red light, I could not believe that it was true,” said Abdurahman Ozturk, a young Uyghur exile activist in Turkey, whose family members are neighbors to Ablimit’s family in Kelpin county.
“His father died for some unknown reasons in a foreign country 14 years ago, and now his teen son was shot by the Chinese police in unforeseen circumstances. It is really an unbelievable tragedy,” said Ozturk, who is director of Uyghur language Erk TV website.Unofficial meeting
Beliqiz said the authorities had called the family for an unofficial meeting after Ablimit’s death.
She said they had linked the shooting to terrorism but were unable to substantiate their claim when she questioned their decision.
“I asked them, ‘a teenager who ran a red light is a suspected anti-government terrorist who deserved to be shot by police?’"
“There was total silence and then one person said, ‘You are young, you do not understand the real situation. Some anti-government terrorists are using this incident to make trouble.”
Beliqiz said she told the authorities that the people protested against her brother’s death because “they cannot bear the police violence, they cannot accept the unjustifiable behavior.”Reported by Eset Sulaiman for RFA’s Uyghur Service. Translated by Eset Sulaiman. Written in English by Parameswaran Ponnudurai.