A U.S.-based Uyghur activist says authorities in his homeland in northwest China’s Xinjiang region have detained his sister and harassed other family members in retaliation for his campaign to protect the rights of the Uyghur ethnic minority group.
Ilshat Hesen, vice president of the Uyghur American Association, said that local authorities detained Ilnur Hesen on Aug. 16 at her home in Kuytun county in the Ili Kazakh Autonomous Prefecture in northernmost Xinjiang.
The Washington-based Uyghur American Association promotes the preservation of Uyghur culture and political self-determination as well as works to improve human rights for Uyghurs.
As a political activist, the former official of the World Uygyur Congress has published numerous articles and critical reviews of China’s policy in Xinjiang.
“It is clear that Chinese authorities detained my sister in order to take revenge on me,” Hesen told RFA’s Uyghur Service. “Their aim is to stop me from my activities. They threaten me by kidnapping my relatives.”
Hesen said he had called friends in Kuytun, Urumqi, the regional capital, and Ghulja county, also in the Ili Kazakh Autonomous Prefecture, for possible assistance in getting information about his sister.
Hesen said another sister told him that a Uyghur police officer at the Kuytun police bureau had informed her that Ilnur had been detained following orders from Xinjiang authorities, and it wasn’t clear how long she would be held.
He also said his family members could not visit Ilnur other than to bring her money and clothes.
A week after police took away his sister, Hesen called his eldest brother who lives in a village in Ghulja county, but he told Hesen not to ask family members any more questions about Ilnur.
“Now I don’t know where my sister Ilnur is detained and for how long,” Hesen said. “My telephone connections with family and friends are completely closed.”
Because he can no longer call his family members, Hesen has contacted the U.S. State Department and international human rights organizations for assistance.
Hesen said Ilnur, a retired nurse who is not in good health, had previously been pressured by local police because of routine phone calls with Hesen.
Authorities in Xinjiang also have harassed other family members.
When Hesen sent a package to one of his brothers, for instance, police jailed his nephew when he attempted to collect the parcel at the post office.
When Hesen sent a text message to family members during the last Ramadan, the Islamic holy month during which Muslims fast, local police in Xinjiang detained his elder brother’s son-in-law for about a week.
Hesen, a former lecturer at Shihezi University in northern Xinjiang, fled China in 2003 because of political pressure he was subjected to in Shihezi city, a key center of the Xinjiang Production and Construction Corps, a semi-military government organization that has administrative authority over several medium-sized cities and settlements in the region.
After three years of exile in Malaysia, Hesen managed to travel to the United States with the help of the United Nations.
Chinese authorities routinely harass and intimidate families of political activists and journalists from Xinjiang who reside abroad.
“I am sorry about [what’s happened to] my sister; however, I have no choice,” Hesen said.
“I cannot stop my struggle just because of the threat of Chinese authorities,” he said.
Reported by Eset Sulaiman for RFA’s Uyghur Service. Translated by Eset Sulaiman. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.