Uyghurs in Exile Launch Campaign Calling on China to Release Video of Missing Family Members

Source: RFA

More than a dozen ethnic Uyghurs living in exile have called on China to release video of family members held in political “re-education camps” in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR) after Chinese state media published what it said was a proof of life video of a Uyghur musician who was thought to have died in prison.

Over the weekend, Turkey’s Foreign Ministry issued a rare statement of criticism against China by a majority Muslim nation, demanding that authorities close the camp network, where more than 1 million Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities accused of harboring “strong religious views” and “politically incorrect” ideas are believed to have been held in the XUAR since April 2017.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Hami Aksoy said the statement had been prompted, in part, by reports of the death in prison of prominent Uyghur musician Abdurehim Heyit, who had served two years of an eight-year jail sentence “for one of his songs.”

On Sunday, Chinese state media published a video online that purportedly shows Heyit alive, and in which the musician claims he is “in the process of being investigated for allegedly violating the national laws.”

The subject of the video goes on to say that he is “in good health and have never been abused,” although experts have said his body language and choice of words suggest he is being held under duress.

By Tuesday, the Uyghur exile community had launched a social media campaign under the hashtag #MeTooUyghur, calling on Chinese authorities to release video of their relatives who are missing within the XUAR and believed detained in the vast camp network.

“China, please immediately release a video of my sister Dr. Gulshan Abbas, who you abducted five months ago,” U.S.-based Uyghur activist Rushan Abbas said in a video she posted to Facebook and Twitter on Tuesday.

“I need to know if she is alive or not. Please release a video just like you did with Abdurehim Heyit.”

Adile Mijit, the Turkey-based daughter of prominent Uyghur comedian Adil Mijit, also posted a message on Twitter under the same hashtag, demanding information about her father, who is believed held in a re-education camp in the XUAR.

“Show me that my father is alive and well! Release my father immediately!” she wrote.

Halmurat Harri, a Uyghur activist based in Finland, posted a message as part of the campaign urging China to “show us their videos if they are alive,” referring to all missing Uyghurs in the XUAR.

Abbas, Mijit and Harri join at least a dozen other exiled Uyghurs around the world who posted similar requests on Tuesday under the same hashtag, holding up photos of their loved ones and calling for information on their health and well-being.

Responding to the social media campaign during a regular press briefing on Tuesday, China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokeswoman Hua Chunying said that as a country of more than 1 billion people, “do we need to release a video of everyone?”

Hua slammed Turkey’s statement and said the video of Heyit showed that reports of his death amounted to an “absurd lie.”

Though Beijing initially denied the existence of re-education camps, Shohrat Zakir, chairman of the XUAR, told China’s official Xinhua news agency in October 2018 that the facilities are an effective tool to protect the country from terrorism and provide vocational training for Uyghurs.

Reporting by RFA’s Uyghur Service and other media organizations, however, has shown that those in the camps are detained against their will and subjected to political indoctrination, routinely face rough treatment at the hands of their overseers, and endure poor diets and unhygienic conditions in the often overcrowded facilities.

Pressuring China

Dolkun Isa, president of the Munich-based World Uyghur Congress exile group, on Tuesday welcomed the #MeTooUyghur social media campaign as a way of pressuring China to divulge information about those held in its arbitrary and extrajudicial detention system.

“Most Uyghurs in exile are not sure if their loved ones are alive or dead since China began arbitrarily detaining more than 1 million Uyghurs in [re-education] camps two years ago,” he told RFA’s Uyghur Service.

“I personally don’t know what happened to my father and other loved ones. We have learned of many deaths in the camps, including that of my mother. Therefore, I call on the Chinese government to reveal the whereabouts and the health conditions of all Uyghurs in the camps.”

Adrian Zenz, a lecturer in social research methods at the Germany-based European School of Culture and Theology, has said that some 1.1 million people are or have been detained in the camps—equating to 10 to 11 percent of the adult Muslim population of the XUAR.

In November 2018, Scott Busby, the deputy assistant secretary in the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor at the U.S. Department of State, said there are “at least 800,000 and possibly up to a couple of million” Uyghurs and others detained at re-education camps in the XUAR without charges, citing U.S. intelligence assessments.

Citing credible reports, U.S. lawmakers Marco Rubio and Chris Smith, who head the bipartisan Congressional-Executive Commission on China, recently called the situation in the XUAR “the largest mass incarceration of a minority population in the world today.”

Reported and translated by Alim Seytoff for RFA’s Uyghur Service. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.

Tough Curbs on Burials

Source: RFA

HONG KONG—Ethnic minority Uyghurs from the far-west Chinese city of Urumqi say authorities attach strict conditions when they release the bodies of Uyghurs who die in custody. Hundreds of Uyghurs were detained as part of a broad crackdown after deadly clashes a year ago.

Members of this Turkic, mostly Muslim ethnic minority, which has chafed for years under Beijing’s rule, are also often in extremely poor physical and mental condition when they are released, residents say.

One Uyghur youth, who fled to the Netherlands and asked not to be named, said his sister, in her early forties, was detained July 5 last year along with her daughter, “while she was just walking down the street.”

“On June 9, when I called home, I learned that they [authorities] brought my sister’s body home and told the family she died in jail. They returned her body without any explanation, just like that.”

“They released my niece … but the police sexually harassed her, and now this 16-year-old who was a very nice girl before is on the streets. She doesn’t come home,” he said in an interview.

When a Uyghur detainee dies in custody, he said, a relative is summoned to “sponsor” the body and bring it home—after signing a pledge that “no information will leak out regarding this death, and they take the body out. Otherwise no one could get the body out.”

“To get the remains, the families must have a sponsor who is a government worker in the family. The sponsor agrees to all terms and promises to keep it quiet.”

“If there is no government worker, then the government will take someone from the family and incarcerate that family member as a ‘hostage’ until all religious burial ceremonies and events are carried out quietly without any issues or questions. Only then do they release their ‘hostage.’”

Deadly violence

Violence erupted last July, in which Chinese officials say 197 people died. The government says about 1,700 people were also injured in the 5 July unrest, with Han Chinese making up most of the victims.

The violence, China’s worst in decades, ended after troops were deployed, and security has remained tight ever since. Some 5,000 police officers have been recruited in the year since the clashes, and Urumqi’s police chief Wang Mingshan said officers have been staging drills to deal with any similar emergencies.

The Munich-based World Uyghur Congress says that at least 300 Uyghurs are thought to have fled China since the clashes, and hundreds more are said to have been detained.

Chinese media say at least 25 people, mostly Uyghurs, have been tried and sentenced to death for related crimes.

Authorities also said unclaimed bodies have been cremated, which Uyghurs consider sacrilege.

Asked if any Uyghurs detained after the the July 2009 clashes had been cremated, one official replied: “Yes, some, but not a lot … Probably because they have no one to claim the bodies and others helped to bring the bodies.”

Unwell when released

Another Uyghur man said authorities detained one of his relatives at work.

“His head was beaten up so badly—he’s not functioning normally now. He was supposed to receive free medical care in a psychiatric hospital. He was also being released with his older sister’s sponsorship. Those who are let go aren’t well when they get out.”

An ethnic affairs official in Urumqi, contacted by telephone, said every neighborhood affairs committee has appointed a task force to handle the remains of those who die in custody after they were detained over suspected links to the July 5, 2009 clashes.

Another Chinese official said police and Public Security Bureau officials are now authorized to conduct burials, after which families may hold Muslim funerals if they promise to avoid spreading news of the death.

One Uyghur man identified as Esetjan, 26, was detained on July 5, 2009, the day the clashes erupted.

On April 18, 2010, authorities turned over his body to his family, saying he had suffered a heart attack, one source said.

“Without any interrogation, without a charge, he was being kept there, and on April 18 they returned his body with a sponsor from the family signing the papers and agreeing to keep it quiet and accepting the conditions of not speaking out about his death,” the source said.

“The reason given to the family was that he had a heart attack. I attended his religious burial ceremony myself. If no one acts as a sponsor for the body, then the body is taken to the crematory, where it is burned.”

The man, who also declined to be identified, also said several men in his neighborhood had died within a week of being released from custody.

“They died one by one. These men [bore] no evidence of being beaten. There were no marks of any kind on their bodies. They walked like normal human beings but slowly, and they didn’t say much.  If one was very outspoken and outgoing before, after being arrested and being released, they became very quiet, not saying much and speaking slowly,” he said.

Original reporting by Gülchehre Keyim for RFA’s Uyghur service. Uyghur service director: Dolkun Kamberi. Translated from the Uyghur by Rushan Abbas. Written in English by Sarah Jackson-Han.