The retired parents of a Uyghur activist living in Australia have been in state custody since mid-2018, RFA has learned from sources inside northwestern China’s Xinjiang region.
Activist Shamsiye Hajibeg is the wife of Nurmemet Abdulmijit Turkistani, president of the East Turkestan Australian Association, a Uyghur advocacy group. It is believed that authorities in Xinjiang have placed dozens of members of Nurmemet’s family into camps, though little detailed information is known about their fate.
Over the past four years, Shamsiye, also a member of the advocacy group, has been unable to get information about 14 of her immediate relatives, including her parents Kamil Abaydulla and Aygul Haji; grandmother Tajinisa Haji; older brothers Zulfikar Kamil and Halmurat Kamil; younger brother Dilmurat Kamil; and her brothers’ wives.
Shamsiye’s contact with her parents began to fall off in early 2017, she told RFA. After she lost contact, she was able to confirm on several occasions through acquaintances that her parents were alive and “on the outside,” meaning that they had not been confined in one of Xinjiang’s internment camps.
Since early 2017, Chinese authorities have detained an estimated 1.8 million Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR) in political reeducation camps under a program Beijing describes as vocational training to combat extremism.
The relatives of Uyghurs living abroad who are active in rights or advocacy groups are among those who have come under pressure from authorities or have been forced against their will into detention.
Like many other members of the Uyghur diaspora, Shamsiye had assumed that her parents and siblings were avoiding contact with her out of caution and did not seek them out lest she cause them trouble. But after her brothers and sisters-in-law stopped sharing posts to WeChat, she came to believe that they had been taken into some form of state detention.
By mid-2018, Shamsiye had lost complete contact with her 67-year-old father, Kamil Abaydulla, a former employee of the water bureau in Atush (in Chinese, Atushi), and her mother, Aygul Haji, a retired employee of the city’s Agricultural Bank of China.
They retired relatively early and ventured into international business in Central Asia for a period, followed by land development in Atush, Shamsiye said.
“I called again and again, and [my mother] picked up once,” Shamsiye said. “She said they were doing well. I asked her if she could, at the very least, call me so that I could hear her voice.”
But her mother told her not to call and to stop looking for her parents, then abruptly hung up, she said.
“And just like that, that was the last time I had a voice call with my mother,” the activist said, adding that whenever she tries to contact her parents by phone now, a message says that their phone number does not exist. When she calls her father’s cell phone, a message says that his mobile unit is powered off.
“I see my family as one that is being oppressed and persecuted, just as hundreds of thousands of Uyghur families in East Turkestan are,” she said, using the Uyghurs’ preferred name for Xinjiang.
Sent to a camp
Police officers who work at a neighborhood committee office in Atush where Shamsiye’s parents lived told RFA that Kamil Abaydulla and his wife have been detained since mid-2018 and that the father has not been released since he was taken in by authorities.
When contacted by RFA, staffers at the water bureau and bank said they were unaware of any Kamil Abaydulla and Aygul Haji at their respective places of employment.
Chinese authorities blacklisted Shamsiye’s relatives and placed them under routine surveillance for the past three decades because her grandfather, Abaydulla, served in the East Turkistan National Army from 1944 to 1949, and her uncle, Turghun Haji, a well-known businessperson, had been indicted for “separatism” in 1997, Shamsiye said.
RFA called relevant offices of the municipal police department in Atush, where the couple hold household registrations, to ask about their whereabouts. While most officials declined to answer most questions, one said that the couple had been detained two years ago.
The pair applied for passports on several occasions so they could travel abroad to see their children, but authorities rejected their applications, Shamsiye said.
RFA also contacted the public security bureau of Kizilsu Kyrghyz Autonomous Prefecture, where Atush is located, to ask whether the couple had been indicted and sentenced to prison terms.
One police official told RFA that an ethnic Kyrgyz policeman named Shungqar had handled their case since January 2019. An official in another department at the bureau also said Shungqar was involved in the case.
Reported by Shohret Hoshur for RFA’s Uyghur Service. Translated by the Uyghur Service. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.