Jun 15, 2016

East Turkestan: Leading Uyghur Media Figures Detained to Silence Ramadan-Ban Criticism

Reports have confirmed how between March and May of this year [2016], leading Uyghur writers and web administrators in Xinjiang were detained to keep them from criticizing recent Chinese regulations in the lead up to the Ramadan. With preventive measures against the Islamic tradition now in place, the detention of significant website owners have been seen as an attempt to curb opposition within the wider Uyghur online community. 


Below is an article published by Radio Free Asia


Through telephone interviews, RFA’s Uyghur Service was able to confirm that at least five Uyghurs were held between March and May—Tursunjan Memet, Omerjan Hesen, Ababekri Muhtar, Akbarjan Eset, and an online writer whose name could not be confirmed. Misranim and Baghdax are two of the most popular Uyghur language websites established by intellectuals in Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region.

Six plainclothes officers from the public security bureau in Aksu arrived in two cars at Tursunjan Memet’s home in Shangho village of Shangho township in Korla on the morning of March 29, and informed him that they were temporarily detaining him, said Memet Qari, Tursunjan Memet’s 59-year-old father. They thoroughly searched Memet’s room and checked all his books, taking some of them along with a desktop computer, Qari, who is a farmer, said.

“My wife and I asked them why they were detaining our son, but they only informed us that there appeared to be some ‘problem’ with the Misranim website,” he said. Police warned the couple not to say anything about Tursunjan Memet’s detention, even to their close relatives, and declined any requests for interviews from local journalists, he said. Tursunjan’s mother, who suffers from heart disease and diabetes, fell ill after authorities apprehended her son, and had to be hospitalized, Memet Qari said.

Qari inquired everywhere about possible information as to his son’s whereabouts, but he could not find him in Korla. Later, he became aware that policemen took Tursunjan first to Aksu, and then transferred him to the Urumqi railway detention center, he said.

Father hires lawyer

On May 18, Memet Qari went to Urumqi and contacted a lawyer named Abureshit Mejit, who said he knew of Tursunian through his writings. When Memet Qari and Mejit went to the detention center, authorities denied the father entry but let in Mejit. “Lawyer Abdureshit told me that my son had been accused of the crime of ‘instigating ethnic-hatred’ and ‘separatism,’ he said. When RFA contacted Abdureshit Mejit to inquire about Memet’s detention, he said he could not talk about the case. Police have transferred Memet back to Aksu again and are detaining him at the prefecture’s central detention center, Qari said.

The deputy director of Aksu prefecture’s security bureau, who gave his name as Tuyghun, called Memet Qari about three weeks ago to inform him that his son had been moved, and that his family needed to provide clothing, food and money for him, he said. In late May, Memet Qari went to Aksu and met with Tuyghun, who read him Memet’s official letter of arrest.

It said: “Tursunjan Memet, 25, from Korla city, Shangho township, was officially arrested and accused of the crimes of instigating ethnic hatred and separatism. He uses the Misranim website as his platform to publish illegal writings.” Qari said he went to the facility where a police officer named Muhtar would not let him see Tursunjan Memet until his trial takes place. “But we can send money, daily necessities and letters to our son while he’s in detention there,” Qari said. When RFA contacted officer Muhtar at Aksu prefecture’s central detention center, he declined to say anything about Memet.

No contact

Ababekri Muhtar, the 29-year-old founder of Misranim and a handicapped social activist, is Tursunjan Memet’s best friend, Memet Qari said. A week after Tursunjan was detained, Ababekri Muhtar contacted Memet Qari to inform him that he had not been in contact with Tursunjan for a week. Memet Qari, who told Ababekri about Tursunjan’s detention during his visit, said Ababekri Muhtar himself disappeared a week later around the beginning of April.

Although accounts of Ababekri’s detention have appeared on social media in the region, China’s official media have not published any reports so far. On Sunday, RFA was informed that Ababekri released on June 10 and spotted in Urumqi. “Yes, he was released on last Friday and reunited with his family,” said one of Ababekri’s relatives in Istanbul, Turkey who confirmed the news on condition of anonymity.

Ababekri Muhtar had met with former U.S. Ambassador to China Gary Locke and was invited to visit the United States in the spring of 2015 as part of the Chinese private web-founders team that is supported by the American embassy in Beijing. Reports about Muhtar’s trip appeared on Misranim, and Muhtar himself also published a series of essays about his travels.

Uyghur-language movement

Akbarjan Eset was detained and had to shut the Baghdax website down after a series of riots over ethnic tension that broke out in Urumqi on July 5, 2009, said Imam’eli Hesen, a Uyghur youth who knows Akbarjan and is studying in Turkey.

Abduweli Ayup, a western-educated linguist who operates Uyghur-language schools in Kashgar (Kashi), said Akbarjan restarted Baghdax after he was released and was involved in Ayup’s Movement for Mother Language Based Education, which promotes the learning of the Uyghur language, from 2011 to 2013.

In May, news of his detention appeared on social media sites, but authorities released no official information. One of the former administrators of the Baghdax website told RFA last Wednesday that Akbarjan had left for a business trip more than a month ago. The administrator, who requested anonymity, said Akbarjan was still missing.

“I don’t know when he will come back,” he said. “Nobody knows where he went or when he will return.” Little is known about the fifth detained Uyghur who works in the field of education, except that he is being held with Tursunjan Memet and Omerjan Hesen at the Aksu prefecture central detention center, Memet Qari said.

Photograph courtesy of Radio Free Asia