Uyghur Activist ‘Very Weak’ in Prison, Denied Family Visits

2013-12-27
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Abduweli Ayup (R) with his wife and daughter while studying in the U.S. in 2010.
Photo courtesy of a family member

A Uyghur blogger and activist is “seriously ill” in prison in China’s troubled northwestern region of Xinjiang following his detention four months ago, according to concerned family members who have been barred by the authorities from meeting with him.

The Chinese authorities have also refused to inform the family of the whereabouts of Abduweli Ayup, a 39-year-old active promoter of the Uyghur language, since he was arrested in August for allegedly illegally collecting donations to run Uyghur schools in Xinjiang.

Before his arrest, the authorities closed down a Uyghur-language kindergarten run by Ayup and his two business partners in Kashgar city and refused to allow them to open another Uyghur school in Xinjiang’s capital Urumqi, relatives said.

One family member who spoke to RFA’s Uyghur Service on condition of anonymity said that Ayup had become “seriously ill” during his four months of incarceration and that attempts by relatives to meet with him had been refused by authorities.

“Our family has tried to send some medicine and money to [him], but the authorities will not allow him to receive anything from us,” she said.

“According to our most recent information, he is very weak and his health is in seriously bad condition.”

The family member would not reveal the source of the information about Ayup’s health, but said that relatives were unaware whether authorities had been providing him with medical treatment.

Another family member told RFA that relatives had received no official information about Ayup other than the reason for his arrest.

“Four months ago, [he] was detained in Kashgar by police from Urumqi, but the only information our family has received from the police was that Ayup and his colleagues had ‘illegally collected donations’,” he said, also speaking on condition of anonymity.

“In order to find out about [his] situation, our family members went to various governmental organs including police stations and Public Security Bureaus in both Kashgar and Urumqi, but our requests were totally refused. Even now, we still do not know where he is held.”

The family member said that an uncle had been caring for Ayup’s family, including his wife and young daughter, since his arrest and that Ayup’s 70-year-old mother had been “heartbroken by the news” of his detention.

While little is known of Ayup’s current condition or where he is being held, the Uyghur Online website—which discusses Uyghur social issues and carries news from Xinjiang—reported last week that he and his colleagues would be tried in January.

“The case of the three people [Ayup, Dilyar Obul and Muhemmet Sidik] has already entered the prosecution stage with the [local] Procuratorate,” the report said.

“They have been accused of illegally collecting donations and will be tried in January next year.”

Uyghur language activist

Ayup obtained his bachelor’s degree at the Central University for Nationalities in Beijing in the late 1990s and a master’s degree at Xinjiang University in the early 2000s before working as a lecturer at the Northwest University for Nationalities in the Gansu provincial capital Lanzhou.

From December 2005 to June 2006, he was a visiting scholar at Ankara University in Turkey and was later awarded a scholarship from the Ford Foundation for a two-year advanced study program in linguistics, which he attended at the University of Kansas from 2009-2011.

An active promoter of the Uyghur language, despite Beijing’s policy enforcing the use of the Mandarin Chinese language in Xinjiang schools, Ayup and his associates established the Uyghur-language kindergarten in Kashgar during the summer of 2012.

Authorities said they closed down the school in March 2013 because it was operating “without complete documentation.”

Relatives said that Ayup and his partners made repeated attempts between September 2012 and August 2013 to open a school in Urumqi but they were refused permission to operate the Nurkhan Mother Tongue School from various governmental departments at both the municipal and regional levels.

In the meantime, Ayup and his colleagues published articles on various Uyghur websites soliciting public opinion on their school plans. According to information provided by the websites, some 500,000 visitors read their articles.

Beginning in 2013, Ayup’s relatives said that he and his colleagues had received numerous threats from authorities in Kashgar and Urumqi and were invited to “drink tea”—a common euphemism for what is effectively an interrogation session—by the police several times.

But they said that the three men refused to abandon their dream of opening the Uyghur-language kindergarten, which they asserted was their right under China’s education laws.

Ayup, Dilyar Obul and Muhemmet Sidik were detained by authorities on Aug. 20, 2013.

Decision to return

Anwar Memet, a childhood friend and middle school classmate who now lives in the U.S., told RFA that Ayup’s supervisor at the University of Kansas had offered him a three-year scholarship if he agreed to pursue his doctorate in linguistics following the completion of his graduate degree.

“[B]ut he chose to return to his homeland to realize his dream ... of opening the Uyghur-language kindergarten and school.”

He said that he and other friends had tried to persuade Ayub—whose wife and daughter were also with him in the U.S. at the time—to stay to pursue his studies, but he could not be swayed.

“We warned him, ‘As a high-level Uyghur intellectual, your plan to open a Uyghur-language kindergarten may be interrupted by the Chinese authorities. If you attempt to realize your plan under the pressure of the Chinese police, you may face arrest,’” he said.

“In the end, he decided to return to China in 2011. When I heard he was detained four months ago, my heart was broken. He sacrificed himself for his unfinished dream.”

Ayup’s family members told RFA that “[he] never regretted his decision to return to his homeland.”

Reported by Eset Sulaiman for RFA’s Uyghur Service. Translated by Eset Sulaiman. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.