Daughter’s anguish over missing Uyghur scholar
14 hours agoShirakawa MarinaNHK World CorrespondentNakanishi HideharuNHK World ProducerThe daughter of a missing Uyghur intellectual is speaking out from her adopted home in Kobe, Japan, 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 Japan 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 China. 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 Japan, 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.”
She was one of the speakers last month in a webinar on Missing Uyghur Intelectuals co-hosted by Japan 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 Japan. 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.
Members of Japan’s ruling Liberal Democratic Party received a briefing last month from Japan 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 Japan are among the vast number to have disappeared.
When Bulbulnaz moved to Japan in 2019, she brought along some cherished possessions. Among them are books authored by her father, including one about the life they enjoyed in Japan 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.”
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
Shirakawa MarinaNHK World
Uyghur Australian woman breaks her silence as her husband is sentenced to 25 years in a Chinese jail in Xinjiang
- Mirzat Taher, an Australian permanent resident and Uyghur, has been detained in China
- His wife Mehray Mezensof, who lives in Melbourne, is speaking out for the first time
- A new report by Human Rights Watch says China is committing “crimes against humanity” in Xinjiang
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.”
‘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.
More than 1 million Uyghurs and other Muslim ethnic minorities are believed to have been targeted, detained and indoctrinated by Chinese authorities since 2017.
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.
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.
“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.
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.
“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.
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.
“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.
“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”.
“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.”
‘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.”
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.
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.”
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.
Her Uyghur friend disappeared. Now this Boston woman is on a mission to draw attention to China’s ‘genocide’
Deirdre ShesgreenUSA TODA
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.
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.
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.
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.
“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.
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.
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.
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
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
“>transformation through education camps, or extra-legal prison terms the CCP
“>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