Nearly a dozen Uyghur men remain in jail more than two years after they were detained in a wave of arbitrary arrests tied to a deadly clash with police in northwestern China’s troubled Xinjiang region, according to local sources.
The men were among dozens rounded up during a police crackdown in Keriye (in Chinese, Yutian) county in Hotan prefecture after two Uyghur men and one policeman were killed in an altercation in the town in April 2010, sources in the county told RFA last month.
Sources said the fight that started the crackdown was sparked by photos of half-naked women in local advertisement posters which offended Uyghurs, many of whom chafe under Beijing’s rule in the region.
Details of the incident surfaced two years after it took place amid restricted communications in Xinjiang that followed deadly ethnic clashes in Urumqi in July 2009.
At least two arrested in the aftermath of the 2010 fight were sentenced to death but given a two-year reprieve, two more are serving life sentences in prison, and another is serving eight years in jail in connection with the deaths, according to local sources.
Amid the roundup, authorities also discovered a man had been giving unauthorized religious lessons in Islam from his home, and detained six teenagers studying with him who were later given lengthy prison sentences.
A source said armed police and state security had conducted the wave of arrests, mostly in Hal village, near the town of Keriye.
“Right after the [fight], the Chinese government brought special armed police from Hotan city who joined with the local state security forces and started arbitrarily arresting Uyghur youths,” said a farmer in the county familiar with the case, speaking on condition of anonymity.
“I know around 27 Uyghur youths arrested in that incident…. Those are just the ones I know of; there may be more I don’t know about,” the source told RFA’s Uyghur service.
But a resident of an adjacent village said more than 27 people were detained in the aftermath of the deaths.
“Twenty-seven people were arrested from Hal village only, and counting those from around Keriye county, there might have been more than 50 people arrested following the incident,” the villager said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
“Everything was secretly suppressed,” he added.
Hal village authorities contacted by RFA refused to confirm or deny the fight with police or the ensuing wave of arrests.
“If you want to know about this incident, you have to come to my office and talk to me,” the police officer said.
The fight that killed the two started after two Uyghur men, Dawud and Abdujelil, took down the posters that were on the streets of Keriye town because they felt the partial nudity in the posters had offended local norms of modesty, the first source said.
But the day after they took down the posters, new, “more insulting” posters appeared, according to the source.
On April 26, 2010, when Dawud and Abdujelil, who were respectively 22 and 23 at the time, went to destroy the new posters, they found armed police waiting for them.
In the ensuing fight, Dawud killed one of the police officers with a knife, before he was beaten and killed, according to the source.
Abdujelil escaped the scene to the home of his friend, Ababekri Memturayim, in nearby Hal village.
Ababekri Memturayim, who was 27, was killed in his doorway when police hit and stabbed him while he refused to allow them into his home to arrest Abdujelil, according to the source.
Abdujelil was later arrested and sentenced to life imprisonment for his role in the fight, the source said.
Authorities also pressured Ababekri Memturayim’s family members to keep quiet about his death, she said.
Ababekri Memturayim’s body was wrapped in a plastic bag and taken away by authorities, and his family members were not allowed to bury him.
“Ababekri Memturayim’s father was arrested, detained for 10 days and forced to not to tell anyone about his son’s death.”
“His father was a poor farmer, very poor … Poor people keep quiet.”
Sentenced to death
Authorities also rounded up other young men in the area with ties to Dawud, Abdujelil, and Ababekri Memturayim and arrested them in connection with the deaths, sources said.
Two of them were given death sentences with a two-year reprieve, although they are believed to still be alive more than two years after their arrest.
Those sentenced to death were Abdul’eziz, 22 at the time, who was arrested after he was found to have a knife at his home, and Abdulhekim, 27 at the time, who had worked with Ababekri Memturayim at a construction company, according to the source.
“They were imprisoned in Urumqi No. 1 Prison, and have been in jail for two years already. But it is not clear if they have been executed yet; their family members have not been informed of anything,” the source said.
Another source, also speaking on condition of anonymity, said that Abdulhakim is still alive in prison.
“He is in Urumqi No. 1 prison right now. His parents very much want to visit him, but are not allowed to see him.”
He said that Abdulhakim had been shot in his right arm and leg when police came to his home to take him into custody and he resisted arrest.
Abdulhakim was taken to a prison hospital, where he did not receive adequate treatment, and after eight months of hospitalization he was given the life sentence in a closed court session, the source said.
“They didn’t want to help him [in the prison hospital]. He suffered there for eight months,” he said, adding that relatives have not been allowed to see him since the sentencing.
Life in prison and 8 years
Aside from Abdujelil, who was involved in the initial fight with police, one more man was sentenced to life in prison, and another given eight years in connection with the incident.
Muhemmet Mettursun, 26, who was a close friend of Dawud’s, was arrested by Hotan armed police and local Chinese state security, and is currently serving his life sentence in Daheyan prison in Turpan.
His mother was detained for several days for protesting against what she felt was his arbitrary arrest.
Metqurban Gangpen, 25, who had loaned money to Muhemmet Mettursun, was arrested and sentenced to eight years in prison, and is currently in serving his time in Aksu prison.
Teenagers studying the Quran
Amid the wave of arrests, police also uncovered that Ababekri Memturayim had been conducting “illegal” teachings on Islam for young students in his home, according to the farmer.
Unsanctioned religious study is forbidden in Xinjiang, where children under 18 are not allowed to attend mosques.
Authorities arrested six teenage boys who had been regularly studying the Quran with Ababekri Memturayim, the source said.
The boys, who were between the ages of 14 and 17 at the time, are now serving sentences of eight to 14 years in prisons in Aksu and Yarkand, far from their hometowns, according the source.
Ethnic tensions run high in Xinjiang, where the mostly Muslim Uyghurs complain of policies favoring Han Chinese migration into their homeland and say they have long suffered ethnic discrimination and oppressive religious controls.
Exile Uyghur leaders have warned that Uyghurs are rapidly becoming a minority in their own homeland and that those seeking meaningful autonomy are subjected to political control and persecution.
Abdusalam, a Uyghur scholar and member of an exile group in Canada, said many Uyghurs believe advertisement posters such as the ones that provoked the fight in Keriye are displayed on purpose to provoke Uyghurs who hold on to traditional beliefs and lifestyles.
“This is an old Chinese tactic: muddying the waters to make it easier to catch the fish. The Chinese government would like to find out which Uyghurs will try to protect their traditions, in order to get rid of them,” he said.
Uyghur groups and international rights groups have spoken out on longstanding concerns of widespread human rights violations by the Chinese government against the Uyghur people, including arbitrary arrests.
“China has serious human rights violation against the Uyghurs going back many years, including includes arbitrary arrest, torture, and the use of the death penalty,” Amnesty International Canada’s secretary general Alex Neve told RFA.
“This certainly includes widespread discrimination with respect to the ability to practice religion and advance their culture, which is affecting the whole of Uyghur society.”
The exile World Uyghur Congress has said thousands of Uyghurs were rounded up and forcibly disappeared in the aftermath of the Urumqi violence of July 2009 in a crackdown that included a 10-month regionwide Internet blackout.
Reported by Rukiye Turdush for RFA’s Uyghur Service. Translated by Rukiye Turdush and Mamatjan Juma. Written in English by Rachel Vandenbrink.