Disappearances

Daughter’s anguish over missing Uyghur scholar

Daughter’s anguish over missing Uyghur scholar

Daughter’s anguish over missing Uyghur scholar
Backstories
14 hours ago
NHK World Correspondent
NHK World Producer
The daughter of a missing Uyghur intellectual is speaking out from her adopted home in Kobe, , in a bid to save her father. Until now, Bulbulnaz Jalalidin has kept quiet out of concern for her safety and that of her father Abduqadir Jalalidin. He has been missing for three years, and is believed to be one of an estimated one million Uyghurs detained by Chinese authorities.

Abduqadir Jalalidin attended university in central  in 2002. He subsequently became well-known as a poet and took up a role as a professor at Xinjiang Normal University, in the Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region of northwest . He was taken from his home by Chinese security agents in 2018 and has not been seen since.

When her father vanished, Bulbulnaz, now 30, was studying in Turkey. But with China’s growing influence there, she began to worry about her own safety. She moved to , where she had lived with her father when she was a child.

“In my opinion, he was never political and knows how to keep a distance from sensitive issues,” says Bulbulnaz. “His main focus was academic. I remember people respecting him and they loved to spend time and have a conversation with him.”

Bulbulnaz Jalalidin
Abduqadir’s daughter Bulbulnaz lives in Kobe, Japan.

She was one of the speakers last month in a webinar on Missing Uyghur Intelectuals co-hosted by  Uyghur Association and Human Rights Now. Participants discussed the plight of the missing Uyghur intellectuals and resolved to approach Chinese and Japanese authorities to seek help confirming their whereabouts.

“Sometimes I feel like no one is actually hearing our voice. I feel like we are all alone here,” says Bulbulnaz. She is speaking up on behalf of her father because she sees support from the international community as the only hope to secure his freedom. “I recall my father sitting among mountains of books. He is a man of letters, but is being treated like a criminal.”

One of Jalalidin’s former students also lives in . Muhtar Abdurahman owns copies of the professor’s Uyghur translations of “The Republic” by Plato and “The Prince” by Niccolo Machiavelli. Jalalidin rose to prominence as the first person to translate these classics of western philosophy into the language, and Abdurahman believes this status within Uyghur intellectual circles is why he was detained by the authorities.

“I think the goal of the Chinese government is to turn them into a people without an elite, and in doing so, make the Uyghurs powerless,” says Abdurahman, who studied at Xinjiang Normal University.

Muhtar Abdurahman
Muhtar Abdurahman, who lives in Saitama Prefecture, was one of Jalalidin’s university students in Xinjiang.

Members of Japan’s ruling Liberal  Party received a briefing last month from  Uyghur Association about the human rights situation in Xinjiang. The association’s vice-chair, Afumetto Retepu, says at least nine intellectuals who have studied in  are among the vast number to have disappeared.

When Bulbulnaz moved to  in 2019, she brought along some cherished possessions. Among them are books authored by her father, including one about the life they enjoyed in  two decades ago. It describes Japanese society and culture, and the importance of knowing the world beyond one’s own borders.

A Uyghur language textbook used in Xinjiang schools includes quotes from the book, including: “Humans need to go beyond the mountains and valleys…and tear through the scenery that fills their view. Otherwise we will never find anything, even though we can see.”

the list of missing Uyghur
A list of missing Uyghur intellectuals who have studied in Japan.

Textbooks like that are a matter of concern for Beijing. Chinese state television aired a documentary this month about convicted education officials from Xinjiang. One of them was shown making a confession that “the primary school Uyghur textbooks are full of Pan-Islamism and Pan-Turkism. That incites separatism among children.”

The documentary reflects the Chinese government’s belief that textbooks should prioritize assimilation – an approach being promoted in the so-called vocational training centers where people like Abduqadir Jalalidin are thought to be interned.

Watch video: 08:31

Uyghur Australian woman breaks her silence as her husband is sentenced to 25 years in a Chinese jail in Xinjiang

Uyghur Australian woman breaks her silence as her husband is sentenced to 25 years in a Chinese jail in Xinjiang

Exclusive by Grace Tobin and Samuel Yang

Australian woman Mehray Mezensof
Mehray Mezensof sits alone at her home reading an old love letter written by her husband.(

ABC News: Grace Tobin

 

ourne woman Mehray Mezensof has been married for five years, but her husband has been absent for most of that time.

Instead, he has been in and out of detention centres and concentration camps multiple times in China’s far north-western region of Xinjiang.

Ms Mezensof has never spoken publicly before, fearing it would make an already perilous situation more dangerous for her husband Mirzat Taher.

But she has been pushed to breaking point after receiving devastating news two weeks ago that Mr Taher, an Australian permanent resident, has been sentenced to 25 years in jail for alleged “separatism”.

“It’s ridiculous, my husband would never do something like that,” the 26-year-old nurse told 7.30 in an exclusive interview.

“This isn’t something out of a movie, it is happening.”

A woman holds up a photo of a man.
Ms Mezensof is pleading for help to bring her husband to Australia.(

ABC News: Grace Tobin

)

‘Loving, caring and kind person’

Ms Mezensof was born and raised by a Uyghur family in Australia — her parents emigrated to Australia from Xinjiang, China 35 years ago.

The Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region is home to more than 11 million Uyghurs, an ethnic minority in the region who are mostly Muslims and speak Turkic, a language similar to Turkish.

Map of Xinjiang province
Map of Xinjiang province(

ABC News: Alex Palmer

)

More than 1 million Uyghurs and other Muslim ethnic minorities are believed to have been targeted, detained and indoctrinated by Chinese authorities since 2017.

Evidence of these abuses include satellite imagery showing the location of concentration camps and witness accounts detailing rape and tortureforced sterilisation and forced labour.

China’s foreign ministry and state media have repeatedly denied the allegations saying the camps are “vocational education centres”, and accused western media of fabricating stories about Uyghurs and Xinjiang.

But Ms Mezensof knows only one truth — her husband is currently behind bars in China because he is Uyghur.

A man and a woman in wedding dresses smiling
Ms Mezensof and her husband Mr Taher on their wedding day in Xinjiang.(

Supplied: Mehray Mezensof

)

In 2016, when Ms Mezensof was 22, she travelled to Xinjiang for the first time and met Mr Taher.

“There was like this kind of spark … it sounds silly and so cliche, but I feel like honestly it was love at first sight,” she said.

“From that moment when I first spoke to him, I knew that I wanted to spend the rest of my life with him.

“He was just such a loving, caring and kind person.”

‘People were disappearing’

After marrying in Urumqi, Xinjiang’s capital city, Ms Mezensof applied for an Australian visa for Mr Taher. The visa was granted on April 1, 2017.

“It was around this time when we were hearing of some unrest happening in the capital city,” she told 7.30.

“We were hearing whispers from people about how people were disappearing in the middle of the night.

“It never crossed my mind that something like that could be happening.”

In early 2017, China’s crackdown on Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities was ramping up, with a massive arbitrary detention program.

The reasons behind detention can vary and could be as minor as wearing a headscarf, having a beard, or traveling overseas for vacation.

Mr Taher was on alert and the couple wanted to leave Xinjiang as soon as possible. They booked flights to Melbourne for April 12, but they never made it to the airport.

The couple’s worst fears were realised on the night of April 10, when police came knocking.

“They confiscated my husband’s passport and one of the first things they asked was, had my husband travelled overseas,” Ms Mezensof recalled.

A man and a woman hug at home.
The couple lived in Xinjiang for about a year before being forcibly seperated.(

Supplied: Mehray Mezensof

)

“Prior to us getting married, my husband travelled to Turkey and he lived and worked there for about a year so.

“So hearing that straightaway, they were just like, OK, we have to continue this at the police station, and then they took him out.”

He did not return that night. It was the last time Ms Mezensof saw her husband for more than two years.

After being questioned by local police for three days, Mr Taher was taken to a detention centre for 10 months before transferring to a concentration camp.

Short reunion

Mr Taher was unexpectedly released on May 22, 2019, Ms Mezensof said.

Several weeks later, the couple reunited at the Urumqi airport.

“I was at work when I received the call, I was just like screaming,” Ms Mezensof recalled.

Later, Mr Taher told her what had occurred behind the high walls of the concentration camp.

A man in jumpsuit sits near a desk holding a pen and a notebook.
Mr Taher appears to be studying during his detainment.(

Supplied

)

“He said it was constant brainwashing … it just sounded crazy,” Ms Mezensof said.

“Learning about the Chinese Communist Party, reading books, and memorising speeches.

“After they released him, police officials were still keeping a really close eye on him.

“They pretty much called him whenever they got the chance. It was constant surveillance.”

Ms Mezensof’s six-month Chinese visa was running out, but the couple was unable to retrieve Mr Taher’s passport from Chinese authorities.

After her application for visa extension was rejected, she had to leave Xinjiang, arriving back in Australia at the end of 2019.

A couple hugging each other stand in the middle of a street.
The Uyghur couple spent their honeymoon in Turpan, a city in Xinjiang which produces cotton and grapes. (

Supplied: Mehray Mezensof

)

‘Taken again’

Ms Mezensof’s plan to return to China was hindered by the coronavirus pandemic. Unable to travel, the couple stayed in contact over the phone.

But on the morning of May 19, 2020, Ms Mezensof noticed something was up: her messages went unanswered for hours.

“I was freaking out … every time I’d text, he’d always get back to me,” she recalled.

A man in black waves to camera.
Mr Taher enjoyed a short period of freedom after his first release.(

Supplied: Mehray Mezensof

)

“I was constantly calling him and video calling him, and he just wouldn’t answer.

“Then that was when I found out that [police] had come in and taken him again.”

She said her husband was detained again on that day and allegedly taken to a camp until August 30, 2020.

Mr Taher’s Australian permanent residency was granted shortly before his release.

But only weeks later, Mr Taher was detained for a third time.

7.30 has seen a notice of arrest issued by Hami police in Xinjiang on October 23, 2020.

According to the notice, Mr Taher was arrested for the alleged crime of “organising, leading and participating in terrorist organisation” and was detained in Yizhou District’s detention centre in Hami, south-east of the capital city Urumqi.

‘Extremely harsh sentence’

Ms Mezensof said her husband’s court hearing occurred in January, where his family attended a court in Hami.

Two weeks ago, on April 1, he was sentenced to 25 years in prison, Ms Mezensof said.

“My husband had been sentenced to 25 years prison by the [Chinese Communist Party], all because of time that he spent in Turkey,” she said.

A man stands by a sea.
Travel documents provided to 7.30 show that Mr Taher went to Turkey on a tourist visa in 2014 and re-entered the country in 2015 on a study visa.(

Supplied: Mehray Mezensof

)

“In their eyes, what they’ve convicted him of is separatism. What they’ve got on him is that when he went to Turkey, [they claim] he basically organised and participated in these kinds of political activities to try and establish an independent country.

The Chinese embassy in Australia and China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs did not respond to 7.30’s questions by deadline.

Ms Mezensof said neither herself nor her husband’s family in Xinjiang had received any written court document or notice about her husband’s conviction.

7.30 has approached local authorities in Hami multiple times to obtain Mr Taher’s verdict and verify his whereabouts — the attempts were unsuccessful.

His name does not appear on China’s Judicial Process Information website relating to legal cases.

7.30 has also seen a police clearance issued by the Turkish authorities on January 2017, saying Mr Taher has “no criminal records”.

A man and a woman look at each other at a wedding photo shoot.
Ms Mezensof said she wants to be with her husband and have a normal life.(

Supplied: Mehray Mezensof

)

“I remember just sitting and crying and shaking my head,” Ms Mezensof said of learning his sentence.

“He’s 30 now, if he carries out these 25 years, he’s going to be 55 and I’m going to be over 50 … that can’t be true.”

Sophie Richardson, the China director of international advocacy group Human Rights Watch (HRW), said the case is “horrifying”.

“Twenty five years is a real outlier. That is an extraordinarily harsh sentence,” she told 7.30.

“One of the pieces of information we uncovered was a Chinese government list of 26 so called sensitive countries … many of them have Muslim majority populations and Turkey is on that list.

“It’s a very common place for [Uyghur] people to go and study or travel to or have business with, and presumably that was the trigger issue here.”

A woman wears a grey jacket holding a stack of files near a window with blinds down.
Human Rights Watch’s China director Sophie Richardson says the Uyghur community has suffered enormously.(

ABC News: Brad Fulton

)

‘Crimes against humanity’

Human Rights Watch has released a legal assessment today which concludes that the Chinese government has committed and is continuing to commit crimes against humanity in Xinjiang against Uyghurs, Kazakhs and other Turkic communities.

Ms Richardson said it is a significant but warranted step for the organisation to use the term “crimes against humanity”.

“It’s a term that refers to widespread systematic concerted crimes committed by authorities against a population and these kinds of abuses can take place in wartime or in peacetime,” she said.

“Crimes against humanity are among some of the most serious violations under international law.”

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The new report sets out the evidentiary basis for the use of the term and has uncovered a long and distressing list of crimes against humanity that the Chinese government commits.

They range from mass surveillance, mass arrests, mass arbitrary detention in forced disappearances, sexual violence and forced labour that are targeted at Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities.

She said governments around the world, including Australia, should respond to the findings accordingly.

“We believe that idea has to be challenged, and that it’s imperative to contemplate investigations on this basis of Chinese government officials.”

Last month, the United Nations secretary-general Antonio Guterres said the UN is holding “serious negotiations” with China to gain unfettered access to Xinjiang for investigation.

Twenty seven countries including Australia and the UK, have formally expressed concern over China’s treatment of Uyghurs.

The US and Canada have both accused China of committing genocide against the Uyghur population, with Chinese officials facing mounting sanctions from the West.

Cheng Jingye looks on at the ACBC event, wearing glasses and a navy suit.
Cheng Jingye said the event was designed to help Australian journalists counter fake news about the situation in Xinjiang.(

ABC News: Matt Roberts

)

But Chinese ambassador to Australia Cheng Jingye dismissed that allegation by holding a press conference in Canberra two weeks ago alongside high ranking Xinjiang officials, saying the government maintains “ethnic harmony” in Xinjiang while cracking down on terrorism.

HRW stopped short of using the term “genocide” in the latest report, but Ms Richardson said the report does not preclude that finding. 

“We’re very clear that if at such time, we are able to show the intent that’s typically required for something like a genocide prosecution, we will have no trouble saying so,” she said.

“The key next step really is for the High Commissioner for Human Rights to say that she will push for an investigation outside the country and move to assemble evidence.

In a statement to 7.30, the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) said it “is aware of the specific case but for privacy reasons we cannot provide further detail”.

“The Foreign Minister recently set out the Australian Government’s grave concerns about the growing number of credible reports of severe human rights abuses against Uighurs in Xinjiang,” the statement said.

“The Australian Government stands ready to provide consular assistance to Australian citizens overseas, but note our bilateral consular agreement with China only allows us access to Australian citizens who have entered China on an Australian passport.

“We are not entitled to provide consular assistance to anyone who is not an Australian citizen in China.”

Ms Mezensof reflects
Ms Mezensof says what’s happening to her and her husband is “like a dream”.(

ABC News: Grace Tobin

)

For Ms Mezensof, all she wants is to be with her husband and have a normal life.

“It feels like I’m telling a story that’s not my own,” she said.

“Growing up in Australia, being born and raised here, and then hearing something like that, it just seems so unreal. But I lived through this.

“My life wasn’t supposed to be like this. I just wanted to have a normal, boring life like everyone else.”

Watch the story on tonight’s 7.30 on ABC TV or stream on ABC iview.

You can read the full Human Rights Watch report Break Their Lineage, Break Their Roots” online.

Her Uyghur friend disappeared. Now this Boston woman is on a mission to draw attention to China’s ‘genocide’

Her Uyghur friend disappeared. Now this Boston woman is on a mission to draw attention to China's 'genocide'

WASHINGTON – About five years ago, a doctor and medical researcher named Imamjan Ibrahim left Boston for Xinjiang, China, to visit his parents. He never returned.

Now, friends and acquaintances fear the 35-year-old Ibrahim has been swept up in China’s massive detention and imprisonment campaign targeting the Uyghurs and other ethnic minorities who populate the country’s western region. 

“It’s been a long four years as I’m searching for my friend,” said Maya Mitalipova, a Uyghur-American and biomedical researcher with MIT’s Whitehead Institute.  

Mitalipova’s quest to find Ibrahim echoes those of other Uyghur-Americans and advocates fighting to bring attention to what the U.S. government now says is a “genocide” by the Chinese government against the Uyghurs.

Mitalipova, who immigrated to the U.S. from Kazakhstan, said she befriended Ibrahim soon after he came to Boston in 2010 and encouraged him as he sought a research fellowship at the city’s Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center. She spoke to USA TODAY via phone and email.

“I became his older sister,” she said. “After long several years of study and preparing and passing medical exams in the U.S., Imamjan finally got (the) fellowship … It was his dream.” 

But he needed to get an H1B work visa, something foreigners can only do at a U.S. consulate abroad. So he traveled to Kashgar, a city in Xinjiang and once a major trading stop on the ancient Silk Road.

Before he could return to the U.S., Mitalipova says Chinese officials confiscated his passport. Her account could not be independently confirmed by USA TODAY. Because of China’s aggressive limits on information about the Uyghurs, such accounts about friends or relatives who have disappeared or been imprisoned are difficult to verify. Uyghurs in China risk retribution from government authorities if they speak out.

Maya Mitalipova, a Uyghur-American and medical researcher, fears her friend has been swept up in China's mass incarceration of the Uyghurs.
 

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Rushan Abbas, a Uyghur-American who founded an advocacy group called the Campaign for Uyghurs, said her sister went missing in Xinjiang in 2018, as she became more vocal about China’s abuses from the safety of the United States. 

“I quit talking to her … to protect her,” Abbas said. “Even that couldn’t save her from retaliation.” Abbas said she learned last year her sister, Gulshan Abbas, a retired doctor, had been tried and sentenced to 20 years in prison.

“She’s in a dark dungeon somewhere because of me,” Abbas said.

A spokeswoman for Beth Israel hospital in Boston said she would try to verify whether Ibrahim had ever secured a fellowship there and did not respond to a follow-up email. But Nury Turkel, a Uyghur-American lawyer and foreign policy expert with the Washington-based Hudson Institute, said he met Ibrahim in Boston several years ago and Mitalipova’s account is “consistent with what I’ve heard” about Ibrahim’s situation. 

Turkel said a mutual friend introduced him to Ibrahim about five or six years ago, when he was in Boston to help another Uyghur with an asylum claim. 

“He’s a soft spoken, very scholarly, mild-mannered gentleman who came to visit me at my hotel,” he recounted. They spoke about the deteriorating situation in Xinjiang, where Chinese officials were then ramping up their campaign against the Uyghurs. 

“I was heartbroken to hear that he got caught up in this,” said Turkel, who himself was born in a re-education camp during China’s cultural revolution.   

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U.S. officials and independent researchers say China is now engaged in “genocide and crimes against humanity” against the Uyghurs, who are predominantly Muslim, and other minorities, including Kazakhs, Uzbeks and Tajiks. Human rights groups say Chinese President Xi Jinping’s government has imprisoned more than 1 million Uyghurs and other peoples in a vast network of detention facilities, labor camps and prisons.

A demonstrator wearing a mask painted with the colors of the flag of East Turkestan takes part in a protest by supporters of the Uyghur minority on Thursday at Beyazid Square in Istanbul, Turkey.
 

And a just-released State Department report says China is also subjecting the Uyghurs to sterilization, coerced abortions, rape and torture, along with “draconian restrictions” on freedom of religion, expression and movement. 

Chinese officials have denounced the Biden administration’s genocide label and attacked media outlets and independent researchers involved in documenting Beijing’s atrocities. 

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“This is the most preposterous lie of the century, an outrageous insult and affront to the Chinese people,” Hua Chunying, a spokesperson for China’s foreign ministry, said at a Wednesday news conference. “The genocide allegation maligns China’s ethnic policy and Xinjiang’s development and progress. China is a unified, multi-ethnic country where the rights and interests of all ethnic minority groups are fully protected.”

Chinese government officials allege there are extremists within the Uyghur community and have said their campaign to “re-educate” the Uyghurs is justified by terrorism concerns. They say the network of detention facilities are not prisons, but rather “transformation through education” centers aimed at de-radicalizing the population.

Mitalipova says she doesn’t know the whereabouts of her friend Ibrahim, whose Chinese name is Yimamu Wulayin. She has told her story to the Xinjiang Victims Database, an online repository dedicated to documenting the disappearance and incarceration of Uyghur individuals. The database is run by Gene Bunin, who holds American and Russian citizenship and used to live in Xinjiang. 

Imamjan Ibrahim was hoping to do a medical fellowship in Boston. But friends fear he's been swept up in China's mass incarceration of the Uyghurs.
 

Hanna Burdorf, who also works on the database project, said it’s hard to determine how many ethnic minorities in Xinjiang have been detained. Besides, some Xinjiang residents may have cut off contact with friends and family living outside China for fear of being arrested, Burdorf said. 

The database’s research shows some villages have had less than 1% of their population detained, while others have had nearly 20% locked up. Regardless of the total number, “this tragedy has had and is having a devastating impact on the whole society,” she said. 

Ibrahim is now entry #3655 in the database, out of 13,566. It lists his current location as “unclear, as he may have been sentenced.” The entry includes a second “testimony” about his disappearance, from an anonymous person who said Ibrahim was arrested in April 2017 on “false accusations.” There has been no news of him since his arrest, according to the account. 

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A Uyghur boy holds a placard that reads: "I cannot have any news from my family and relatives in Eastern Turkistan", during a protest near the Chinese embassy in Ankara, Turkey, on March 25.
 

After she started speaking out about Ibrahim, Mitalipova said two Uyghur women who currently live in the U.S. contacted her and told her Ibrahim was released and is doing OK. But she thinks Chinese officials pressured the two women to contact her, so she would stop submitting testimonials to the Xinjiang Database on Ibrahim’s behalf. 

“I asked them why Imamjan doesn’t call me himself and ask me to stop looking for him?” she said in an email to USA TODAY. “They said because I don’t have Chinese app WeChat. I asked them both if they have seen Imamjan on the video chat or heard his voice.” They told her no, he had contacted them by text only.

The Newlines Institute for Strategy and Policy, a Washington-based think tank, recently issued a sweeping report on China’s treatment of the Uyghurs. It says Chinese officials have specifically targeted Uyghur men and women of child-bearing age in a campaign to reduce the population’s birth rates.

“China has simultaneously pursued a dual systematic campaign of forcibly sterilizing Uyghur women of childbearing age and interning Uyghur men of child-bearing years, preventing the regenerative capacity of the group and evincing an intent to biologically destroy the group as such,” the report says.

In the years since Ibrahim’s disappearance, Mitalipova says her uncle and other relatives living in Xinjiang – a region she and other Uyhgurs refer to as East Turkestan – have also vanished. She now devotes one day every weekend to protesting China’s treatment of the Uyghurs. 

She said the entire world needs to wake up and force China to end its campaign against the Uyghurs, and she’s hoping her solo protests will help in some way. 

“We’re the ones who actually has to bring this awareness,” she said. “We have to stop it.”

My son wanted to send this message out for his grandfather. He asked us to record this and read his written message. Like us, many Uyghur Americans are constantly thinking about their loved ones they have lost connection with.

My son wanted to send this message out for his grandfather. He asked us to record this and read his written message. Like us, many Uyghur Americans are constantly thinking about their loved ones they have lost connection with.

https://twitter.com/bsintash/status/1353411380737679364?s=12&fbclid=IwAR3jN8fxHBEXlXJmqqRYI-QTylz14EBmw9mwmZ3JFDFOkA7pvOdkgQQHyes

My son wanted to send this message out for his grandfather. He asked us to record this and read his written message. Like us, many #Uyghur Americans are constantly thinking about their loved ones they have lost connection with.

Akida’s Story: The Desperate Cry of a Uyghur Woman

Akida’s Story: The Desperate Cry of a Uyghur Woman

“Dear world, please help!” The heartrending plea of a daughter who has been searching in vain for her mother, folklorist Rahile Dawut, for the past three years.

by Ruth Ingram

Rahile Dawut, who disappeared on a trip to Beijing in December 2017.
Rahile Dawut, who disappeared on a trip to Beijing in December 2017. All photos courtesy of Akida Pulat.

There is no end in sight.

Living with the agony of silence since the renowned Uyghur folklorist Rahile Dawut was snatched at Beijing airport in December 2017, her daughter Akida Pulat has left no stone unturned in her mission to find where in the murky labyrinthine tunnels of detention, so-called transformation through education camps, or extra-legal prison terms the CCP has buried her mother. 

The black hole of silence has been deafening, and every plea for information from the Chinese government has been stonewalled.

Akida’s life has been put on hold since her mother’s disappearance. The once happy-go-lucky twenty-something young woman, who enjoyed her career, the company of friends, movie nights and shopping, has become obsessed with the search. She came to the USA in 2015 for a Master of Science in Information Systems at the University of Washington. Her mother joined her for six months as a visiting scholar in 2016, and the last time they saw each other was at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport as the departure gates closed. “Neither of us expected that she would become one of the more than one million Uyghurs detained by the Chinese government,” Akida tells Bitter Winter ruefully.

Akida's Master’s graduation ceremony. The photo was taken by her mother Rahile while she was a visiting scholar at Washington University. Akida is in the center waving the victory sign.
Akida’s Master’s graduation ceremony. The photo was taken by her mother Rahile while she was a visiting scholar at Washington University. Akida is in the center waving the victory sign.

Akida is one of tens of thousands of Uyghur exiles scattered throughout the world, who have been severed not only from their homeland, but also from their families. Which of them could have imagined that their visit to the West would be a one-way ticket, propelled alone or in small family groups into a future where going back was no option? The moment the new governor of Xinjiang province, Chen Quanguo, seized control of their destiny in August 2016, all contact with home was cut off. Those back in the homeland receiving a call from outside were summarily disappeared. If any dared to succumb to pressure and return, arrest at the airport was de rigueur.

There are those who have heard informally that relatives have been sent for “re-education,” or been victims of kangaroo courts and sentenced to long periods behind bars, for crimes such as “unusual” beards, long skirts, or the Skype app on their phones. Their exiled relatives might cynically be described as the lucky ones. At least, they have heard.

Others such as Akida, and relatives of the hundreds of academics, poets and intellectuals who have simply gone missing, live in the twilight abyss of unknowing. Their children, often sent to study abroad to widen their horizons and work for a better future for themselves and their people, are now alone, wrenched from the umbilical cord of financial and emotional support, left to fend for themselves.

Akida, appealing for the whereabouts of her mother.
Akida, appealing for the whereabouts of her mother.

Akida finds herself constantly rehearsing all the “what if’s” and “if only’s” of those who have suddenly lost a loved one.

She admits with shame, and mountains of regret now, that her interests and those of her mother’s rarely coincided. She was busy pursuing a career in technology that was light years removed from the daily lives of those whose folk tales, ballads, dialects, superstitions, and religious traditions intrigued and captivated Rahile. As a teenager, holidays spent in the depths of the countryside listening to the elders sharing memories and singing long forgotten songs were frustrating, even boring, she remembers. She could not wait to get back to “civilization” to gossip and shop with friends.

She is surprised at the changes in herself since this path was forced upon her.

Rahile with her young daughter Akida over supper in a Xinjiang village, during happier times.
Rahile with her young daughter Akida over supper in a Xinjiang village, during happier times.

These days she desperately tries to retrieve those precious memories and the days she spent with the simple villagers, endlessly generous, who showered hospitality upon them with a largesse they could barely afford. She is beginning to appreciate, not too late she hopes, the intensity of her mother’s love for Uyghur culture. But of course, it is too little too late now for her mother to benefit from this awakening camaraderie. Would that they could have shared together unearthing the precious cultural treasures scattered to the four winds of the deserts and mountains of her homeland. “Looking back, I wish she could have felt my support and companionship,” she says, hoping against hope for another chance.

She spoke to her mother via her website last year to wish her happy birthday, in the vain hope that somehow her message would get through.

Speaking on the video, she says, “Every day, I am being tortured with the thought of the uncertain fate that you and other innocent Uyghurs are facing, and the outrageous behavior of the Chinese government in response to the Uyghur people’s plight.”

As a young graduate with plans and hopes, in no hurry to put down roots and content to let the future take care of itself, her mother’s fate and that of millions of her people has thrown her into a turmoil of uncertainty, confusion and fear. Frantic for answers, the hunt for her mother and the crusade against the injustice against her people has consumed her. Her life and her destiny have been changed overnight. “I have become an activist. From morning to night, I think of nothing else. I will find my mother.”

Consumed by the cruelty meted out to her mother, at first, she tried to juggle a full-time job with activism, but it all became too much. She has abandoned her profession and is now working full time for the NGO Campaign For Uyghurs, directed by Rushan Abbas, whose sister was sentenced in March 2019 to 20 years in prison. Her mission now and for the foreseeable future is to raise awareness of the ongoing plight of the Uyghurs, and campaign for world governments to join them in the fight for justice.

Rahile during a walk with Akida in Autumn 2016, while she was a visiting scholar at Washington University.
Rahile during a walk with Akida in Autumn 2016, while she was a visiting scholar at Washington University.

As she walked and talked with her mother beside the lake near their rented home in 2016, she remembers begging her to let her stay for a while to accrue more work and life experience. Rahile reluctantly agreed. But now in her daydreaming about the future, she wonders whether she will ever be able to return. “Will I be able to spend the rest of my life near my mother? Will she be able to move to the suburbs after retirement to spend all day quietly reading and writing? Will she be able to help me raise the grandchild she longs for one day?”

“You always told me to be a good person, and I never forget that,” she says. “Happy birthday, mom. I love you. Please stay safe and mentally strong. I want to send beautiful gifts for your next birthday. I want to share every beautiful thing happening in my life with you. I trust God, and that day will come. At the end of this letter, I want to share with you a quote I recently read ‘Where there’s hope, there’s life.’ It fills us with fresh courage and makes us strong again. I love you and I miss you. Your loving daughter, Akida Pulat.”

 

CHINA: FURTHER INFORMATION: UYGHUR AGAIN DETAINED INCOMMUNICADO: MAHIRA YAKUB

CHINA: FURTHER INFORMATION: UYGHUR AGAIN DETAINED INCOMMUNICADO: MAHIRA YAKUB

, Index number: ASA 17/3491/2021

Mahira Yakub has been sent back to Yining Detention Centre in China’s Xinjiang region in late November 2020 and is still without access to her family and a lawyer of her choice. A Uyghur who worked in an insurance company, she first went missing in April 2019 and was indicted in January 2020 for “giving material support to terrorist activity” after transferring money to her parents in Australia. She was temporarily released from custody on 4 September 2020 and subsequently hospitalized for unknown reasons. There are grave concerns for Mahira Yakub’s condition and wellbeing.

 
Second UA: 86/20 Index: ASA 17/3491/2021 China Date: 7 January 2021
 
URGENT ACTION
 
UYGHUR AGAIN DETAINED INCOMMUNICADO
Mahira Yakub has been sent back to Yining Detention Centre in China’s Xinjiang region in late November
2020 and is still without access to her family and a lawyer of her choice. A Uyghur who worked in an
insurance company, she first went missing in April 2019 and was indicted in January 2020 for “giving material
support to terrorist activity” after transferring money to her parents in Australia. She was temporarily
released from custody on 4 September 2020 and subsequently hospitalized for unknown reasons. There are
grave concerns for Mahira Yakub’s condition and wellbeing, especially as she suffered from liver damage
during a previous detention.
 
TAKE ACTION: WRITE AN APPEAL IN YOUR OWN WORDS OR USE THIS MODEL LETTER
 
Deputy Procurator of Ili Kazakh Autonomous Prefecture People’s Procuratorate
Han Jielong
Lane 4, Sidalin (West) Lu
Yining Shi 835000
Ili Kazakh Autonomous Prefecture
Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region
People’s Republic of China
 
Dear Deputy Procurator Han:
 
I am writing to express my concern about Mahira Yakub (
亚库 ‧ 依拉玛
), a Uyghur insurance company
worker who is being held in Yining Detention Centre without access to her family and a lawyer of her
choice. She first went missing in April 2019 and was indicted for “giving material support to terrorist
activity” (
助恐怖活资
) in January 2020 for transferring money to her parents in Australia. I understand
that she was released from detention on 4 September 2020, after which she was taken to hospital for
unknown reasons, but she was returned to Yining Detention Centre in November 2020. Throughout this
time, Mahira Yakub’s family has not been able to get in touch with her.
 
It is alarming to learn that Mahira Yakub’s relatives residing in Xinjiang have been harassed by the Chinese
authorities because other relatives living overseas shared updates about her on social media. This type of
intimidation has no legal basis and is aimed solely at curbing others’ right to free expression.
 
Without access to her family and lawyer of her choice, I am deeply concerned about Mahira Yakub’s health
and wellbeing, especially as she did not receive adequate medical treatment when she suffered from liver
damage in a “transformation-through-education” facility from March to December 2018.
 
 
I therefore call on you to:
Release Mahira Yakub, unless there is sufficient, credible and admissible evidence that she
committed an internationally recognized offence and is granted a fair trial in line with international
standards;
Allow Mahira Yakub access to her family as well as prompt and adequate medical care, as
necessary or requested, facilitate her right to have effective legal representation of her choice, and
ensure she is not subjected to torture and other ill-treatment;
Stop all kinds of harassment and intimidation against Mahira Yakub’s relatives.
 
 
Yours sincerely,
Second UA: 86/20 Index: ASA 17/3491/2021 China Date: 7 January 2021
 
ADDITIONAL INFORMATION
 
Mahira Yakub worked at China Life Insurance Co. She also sold walnuts in local markets and taught Uyghur children
Mandarin Chinese at night. After Mahira Yakub went missing in April 2019, her sister who was living in Australia
reached out to the Australian authorities for their help. It was only in September 2019 that she learned, through
communications between the Australian authorities and the Chinese embassy in Canberra, that Mahira Yakub had
been arrested on 15 May 2019 and “prosecuted in July 2019 for allegedly financing terrorist activities and is currently
in good health”.
Mahira Yakub’s parents are accused by the Chinese authorities of being “fleeing terrorists” despite being able to visit
China without incident in 2015 and 2016. They have not been targeted in any way by the Australian authorities for
suspected criminal activities.
According to her sister, Mahira Yakub transferred money to her parents in June and July 2013 to help them pay for
a house in Australia. Mahira Yakub’s sister has kept the documentation, including the bank transfer receipts and
records of the house purchase. The Chinese authorities also claimed that Mahira Yakub possessed items, including
66 photos, that promoted extremism. Mahira Yakub’s sister believes that the photos were of herself, Mahira and their
mother wearing headscarves. No reasons were provided for Mahira Yakub’s detention in a “transformationthrough
education” facility from March to December 2018. It is unclear if this detention was related to her money transfers
to her parents.
When Mahira Yakub was taken away on 5 September 2020, her family members were told that she would be taken
to Yining People’s Hospital for unknown reasons. However, her family members were not able to speak to her even on
phone. According to her sister, Mahira Yakub has not been able to engage a lawyer because she is a Uyghur. Amnesty
International has documented cases in which members of ethnic minorities in Xinjiang were unable to hire lawyers
because the lawyers feared retaliation for representing them. Mahira Yakub’s aunt and uncle, Gulbekram Memtimin
(麦米提敏‧ 木热古勒拜克 ) and Qasim Tohti (托合提‧ 哈斯木), were indicted on the same charges. They are currently
released on bail.
Xinjiang is one of the most ethnically diverse regions in China. More than half of the region’s population of 22 million
people belong to mostly Turkic and predominantly Muslim ethnic groups, including Uyghurs (around 11.3 million),
Kazakhs (around 1.6 million) and other populations whose languages, cultures and ways of life vary distinctly from
those of the Han who are the majority in “interior” China.
In March 2017, the Xinjiang government enacted the “De-extremification Regulation” that identifies and prohibits a
wide range of behaviours labelled “extremist”, such as “spreading extremist thought”, denigrating or refusing to
watch public radio and TV programmes, wearing burkas, having an “abnormal” beard, resisting national policies, and
publishing, downloading, storing, or reading articles, publications, or audiovisual materials containing “extremist
content”. The regulation also set up a “responsibility system” for government cadres for “antiextremism” work and
established annual reviews of their performance.
It is estimated that up to a million Uyghurs, Kazakhs and other predominantly Muslim people have been held in the
“transformationthrougheducation” centres. The Chinese authorities had denied the existence of such facilities until
October 2018, when they began describing them as voluntary, free “vocational training” centres. They claim that the
objective of this vocational training is to provide people with technical and vocational education to enable them to
find jobs and become “useful” citizens. China’s explanation, however, contradicts reports of beatings, food
deprivation and solitary confinement that have beencollected from former detainees. Chinahas rejected calls from
the international community, including Amnesty, to allow independent experts unrestricted access to Xinjiang.
Instead, China has made efforts to silence criticism by inviting delegations from different countries to visit Xinjiang
for carefully orchestrated and closely monitored tours.
PREFERRED LANGUAGE TO ADDRESS TARGET: Chinese, English
You can also write in your own language.
 
PLEASE TAKE ACTION AS SOON AS POSSIBLE UNTIL: 18 February 2021
Please check with the Amnesty office in your country if you wish to send appeals after the deadline.
 
NAME AND PREFFERED PRONOUN: Mahira Yakub (she)
 

Mariye testifies for her husband and other relatives

Mariye testifies for her husband and other relatives

— Beat 1060: Mariye, USA (English) — watch this video
Mariye testifies for her husband and other relatives (https://shahit.biz/family.php?vmode=2&no=44
 
), many of whom have been given prison sentences for their religious background. #uyghurpulse

Eziz testifies for his brother, Alim Sulayman

Eziz testifies for his brother, Alim Sulayman

My innocent brother Alim Sulayman was sentenced with 17 years imprisonment for going abroad to study. Right now, I have no clue about what prison he is locked in, and what kind of torture and humiliation he is going through. It pains me so much day and night that most beautiful period of his life, his youth is destined to be robbed away from him by the dictator government, communistic part of China. I ask American government and humanitarian organizations to help me rescue my innocent brother Alim from the Iron claws of CCP. Dear friends, please share, so that you can help me to save my brother! watch this video

China says it will take action against U.S. delisting of its telecom firms

China says it will take action against U.S. delisting of its telecom firms

·2 min read

5G active antenna units with logos of China Mobile and Huawei are seen in front of a National People's Congress (NPC) conference center in Luoyang, Henan
5G active antenna units with logos of China Mobile and Huawei are seen in front of a National People’s Congress (NPC) conference center in Luoyang, Henan

SHANGHAI (Reuters) -China will take “necessary measures” to safeguard the interests of its companies after the New York Stock Exchange began delisting three Chinese telecom firms that Washington says have military ties, the country’s commerce ministry said on Saturday.

The NYSE said on Thursday that it would delist China Mobile, China Unicom and China Telecom following President Donald Trump’s move in November to bar U.S. investment in 31 firms that Washington says are owned or controlled by the Chinese military.

“This kind of abuse of national security and state power to suppress Chinese firms does not comply with market rules and violates market logic,” the Chinese Ministry of Commerce said in a statement.

“It not only harms the legal rights of Chinese companies but also damages the interests of investors in other countries, including the United States,” it added.

While the ministry said it will take action to protect its firms, it also called on the United States to meet China half-way and put bilateral trade relations back on track.

In its final weeks before President-elect Joe Biden takes office on Jan. 20, the Trump administration has stepped up its hardline stance against China.

Relations between the two biggest economies have come under increasing strain amid a series of disputes over issues like trade and human rights.

The U.S. Commerce Department added dozens of Chinese companies to a trade blacklist in December, accusing Beijing of using its firms to harness civilian technologies for military purposes.

Chinese diplomats have expressed hope that Biden’s election will help ease tensions between the two countries.

In comments published on Saturday, China’s senior diplomat Wang Yi said relations with the United States had reached a “new crossroads” and “a new window of hope” could now be opened.

‘Nowhere to be found’: Harvard coalition says US must fight to free young Uighur leader

'Nowhere to be found': Harvard coalition says US must fight to free young Uighur leader

Exclusive: More than 70 Harvard schools and student organisations sign open letter urging US state department to take stronger action over Ekpar Asat

Rayhan Asat holds a photograph of her brother, Ekpar.
Rayhan Asat holds a photograph of her brother, Ekpar. Photograph: Rayhan Asat
 

Ekpar Asat, a young entrepreneur and journalist from Xinjiang, disappeared in 2016 after returning from the US where he had been on the exchange program and visited his sister Rayhan, a Harvard law student. He had promised to come back to the US in a few months with their parents to watch her become Harvard’s first ever Uighur graduate.

 

“My brother and I were so close, but it was also an exam period and I was so busy, I wasn’t talking to my family every day,” Rayhan told the Guardian.

“I know that he arrived home safely … but suddenly my parents cancelled their visit to the US for my graduation, and I was like ‘What’s happening’, but they wouldn’t tell me … None of it added up. He was nowhere to be found.”

Asat was taken into the expansive and internationally condemned Xinjiang detention system, part of a suite of Chinese government policies that experts say amount to cultural genocide. UN and other human rights experts have estimated more than a million people have been detained in internment camps in Xinjiang, for reasons including simply being of young age, or having relatives overseas.

Rayhan learned in January last year that he had been sentenced to 15 years’ jail for “inciting ethnic hatred and ethnic discrimination”.

This week more than 70 Harvard schools and student organisations signed an open letter urging the US state department to take stronger action in advocating for an alumnus of its prestigious International Visitors Leadership Program (IVLP).

Sondra Anton, director of activism at Harvard Law School’s Advocates for Human Rights, and a key organiser of the campaign, said while there was some initial pushback, support “snowballed” and came from dozens of groups, including associations for students from multiple ethnic and religious backgrounds.

“It started a lot of conversations internally,” said Anton. “Are we going to be on the right side of history? Are we going to use our unique platforms to not just promote ourselves and our careers, but also others?”

Professor William Alford, Director of East Asian Legal Studies at Harvard Law, said he found Asat’s case “disturbing … I think it laudable that students express themselves on matters of conscience.”

The student-led campaign formed after Rayhan addressed a Harvard Law conference last year, telling the story of her brother for the first time.

“HLS Advocates and the undersigned student organizations from Harvard Law School, Harvard College, Harvard Business School, Harvard Kennedy School, Harvard Graduate School of Education, Harvard Divinity School, and Harvard Medical School, join the many Harvard alumnischolarsmembers of Congress, and media outlets that have commended Rayhan’s bravery and strength, and continue to work to draw attention to her calls for Ekpar’s release,” the letter said.

Asat had been chosen for the IVLP because of his “dedication to philanthropy, and continuous effort in cultivating ethnic harmony, and greater understanding between the Han and other ethnic groups in Xinjiang Province of China”, a coalition of senators would later write to China’s ambassador (pdf). He had even been commended by state media inside China for his efforts.

Rayhan believes the timing of his US exchange and his detention are connected, but the state department has told the Guardian it holds no direct evidence that they are related. He is listed in the department’s 2019 human rights report among disappeared members of China’s Uighur community. The spokeswoman said the department was closely tracking his case, and would continue to raise it directly with the PRC government.

“We strongly condemn his ongoing imprisonment and call for his immediate release,” she said.

“Unfortunately, due to tight PRC controls on information, we have been unable to independently verify his current status and whereabouts, but we consistently press the PRC for this information whenever we raise his case.”

Under Donald Trump, the US has enacted sanctions and other measures targeting Chinese authorities over abuses in Xinjiang, Hong Kong and Tibet. Despite mounting evidence the Chinese Communist party denies all allegations of abuse and says the detention centres are education and training facilities designed to address terrorism and alleviate poverty.

Anton and Rayhan hoped the Harvard students’ letter will prompt other university communities to increase their advocacy, especially those which – like Harvard – are institutions of choice for the children of China’s leadership and elite.

“Harvard is taking a stance on something that deserves so much attention but these voices have been absent because of these relationships,” said Rayhan.

“You can’t remain bystanders to genocide when your own alumnus is suffering.”

Rayhan now lives and works in the US as a lawyer. Her parents are in Urumqi, the capital of the Xinjiang region, where the population is subject to extensive surveillance, both human and technological. When Rayhan calls home the family can only make small talk.

“I feel like the Chinese government took away my relationship with my parents too,” she said.

‘This is a very lonely journey, and I hope it doesn’t have to be. The Harvard community made sure I’m not alone in this fight to bring Ekpar home.”