NEWS Police condemn labeling BMW crashing into crowd as ‘traffic accident’

China Police Accused Of Downplaying Deliberate Crash

Authorities in southern China have been accused of downplaying alleged deliberate actions after a young man drove an SUV through a crowded intersection last week, killing five and injuring 13.

The 22-year-old suspect, surnamed Wen, rammed his black BMW into the victim at an intersection in Tianhe district of Guangzhou, a megacity in Guangdong province with a population of nearly 19 million. The incident is marked as “Traffic Incident”.

Authorities said the accident happened at 5:25 pm local time on Jan. 11 at the main intersection of Tianhe Road and Tiyu East Road. Wen Jiabao’s arrest was announced about two hours after the shocking rush-hour incident, which became a trending topic on Weibo, China’s Twitter-like site.

Various dashcam and traffic camera videos captured vivid scenes in which Wen’s vehicle was seen chopping down pedestrians, seemingly at random. After hitting several unsuspecting pedestrians in a crosswalk, he appeared to swerve, apparently trying to target others.

In cellphone footage of the aftermath, victims and debris can be seen strewn on the ground. One video allegedly shows Wen hitting a woman at a separate intersection shortly before the major incident, while another shows him trying to run over a uniformed traffic officer, who managed to escape.

Traffic police work at an intersection in Shanghai, China, March 14, 2020. Authorities in Guangzhou, Guangdong province are investigating the motive of a 22-year-old suspect who allegedly killed five people and injured 13 while driving through an intersection on January 11, 2023.
Yifan Ding/Getty Images

The incident sparked further outrage online after more videos raised questions about the suspect’s motives and social status. In one of the images, taken shortly after Wen stopped the car, the man was reportedly seen throwing bills into the air.

On another occasion, when he was pinned to the ground by the police, he shouted that his uncle was Huang Kunming, Secretary of the Provincial Party Committee. Weekly newspaper Claim could not be verified.

Posts calling for severe punishment and mourning for the victims flooded Weibo and other popular social media apps. However, about 24 hours later, the trending topic disappeared and posts about the incident were deleted, leading to accusations of censorship.

Much of the clip was reposted on Twitter, which has become a digital archive of videos removed from the Chinese internet.

Liang Songji, a Guangzhou resident, told Radio Free Asia that it was difficult for the public to accept that the police downplayed the high-profile incident as a “traffic accident”.

“The sentence for a traffic accident is one year, two years or three years. Five victims is five years,” Liang said. “I want to know his motives, why did he do this?”

“Who is the driver? What is his family background? Do they have power? Do they have money? That’s what everyone around me wants to know,” he said.

On Weibo, comments urged authorities to declare the incident an act of terrorism. A brief statement from police said they were still investigating the incident.

Users speculated that unsubstantiated rumors about ties to party official Huang were one of the reasons the topic was censored. Others said the tragedy may have cast a negative light on the Chinese government as the country approaches its first Lunar New Year after three years of strict anti-COVID rules.

Guangzhou police said Saturday that Wen was charged with “endangering public security”. They have yet to comment on Wen’s motives or whether he acted deliberately. Local authorities could not be reached for comment.

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