A Uyghur language rights activist, whose whereabouts had been unknown since his detention nearly a year ago, has been thrown in a prison notorious for abuses against political activists and formally charged with soliciting “illegal” donations to run his kindergarten, according to sources.
Abduweli Ayup was taken into custody on Aug. 20, 2013, after authorities closed the Uyghur-language kindergarten run by him and his two business partners in Kashgar city in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region and refused him permission to open a separate school in the regional capital Urumqi.
Ayup was initially detained in Kashgar, while his associates were taken into custody in Urumqi, sources said.
Denied information for months on Ayup’s whereabouts, relatives have now learned that he is being held in the Liudawan prison in Urumqi, a source close to his family told RFA’s Uyghur Service this week.
“The family has received word that Abduweli is detained at the Liuduwan prison,” the source said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
“A relative heard this news from Adil Nur, Abduweli Ayup’s lawyer, but he was not allowed to visit him in prison.”
Though relatives had feared for months that Ayup had fallen ill in detention, “his lawyer said that his health is normal now,” he said.
Concern for language rights
An active promoter of the Uyghur language despite Beijing’s policy enforcing use of Mandarin Chinese in Xinjiang schools, Ayup and his associates established a 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.”
Ayup’s associates Dilyar Obul and Muhemmet Sidik were also taken into custody by Chinese police on Aug. 20, 2013.
After months of delay, the prosecutor’s office of the Tianshan Region of Urumqi on May 17 sent a “formal letter” describing the charges filed against Ayup to the Urumqi Municipal Court, RFA’s source said.
“The letter announced that Abduweli and his business partners would be brought to trial within 20 days,” though no word has been received of any further proceeding taken against the men, he said.
“I have seen a copy of the letter from the prosecutor’s office,” he said. “It still maintains that Abduweli and his business partners are accused of having collected ‘illegal donations’ [to support their work].”
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.
Anwar Memet, a childhood friend and middle school classmate who now lives in the U.S., told RFA in an earlier report 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.
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 Richard Finney.