Authorities in the capital of China’s troubled northwestern Xinjiang region have confiscated a cash donation given to a Uyghur woman struggling to raise her four children after her husband disappeared in the wake of ethnic riots in 2009, according to the woman and police.
Uyghur exiles in California had collected U.S. $495 for Meremnisa Turdi in Urumqi as a donation in conjunction with the Muslim Eid al-Fitr festival last month after hearing about her plight.
Her husband Memtimin Yasin is one of thousands of Uyghurs that rights groups report have gone missing since they were arrested in large sweep operations following July 5, 2009 deadly riots that rocked Urumqi in China’s worst ethnic violence for decades.
Shortly after Meremnisa Turdi received the remittance, she was summoned on Aug. 7 to Urumqi’s Hotan Road police station, where police took from her 3,061 yuan in cash—the Chinese currency equivalent of the dollar donation—after threatening that she would be considered a criminal if she kept it, she said.
“They asked me to come to the police station a day before Eid,” she told RFA’s Uyghur Service.
“The money was in my purse, and they did not let me out of the police station and threatened me.”
“So I gave the money up in the end. I just gave it to them, telling them to just use it for drinking.”
Four policemen, including a station officer identified only as Dilshat, took the money and said they would keep it, she said.
“They said I would become a criminal if I used this money. I said, ‘You arrested … my husband, never gave me any information about him, and you are not criminals?’”
Meremnisa Turdi has been supporting her children by doing cleaning jobs since her husband’s disappearance.
Since 2009, authorities have refused to inform her of her husband’s whereabouts and denied he is in their custody.
“They said I talked to people overseas and received money from them, and I said yes,” she said.
“I said, ‘Did you ask me how I was doing with my four kids over the past four years? Did you give me any money? Since I have had a hard time raising my kids, that’s why I accepted the money.’”
A national security officer at the Hotan Road police station confirmed money had been confiscated from Meremnisa Turdi but refused to give further details, saying she was not authorized to speak about the case.
“I know about the confiscated money. But we just carry out orders from above, so you have to speak to those at the top,” the officer, Arzugul Talip, told RFA’s Uyghur Service.
The Hotan Road station chief refused to comment when asked about Meremnisa Turdi’s case, while another policeman at the station said he did not have any information about confiscated cash or foreign remittances.
“I do not know anything about it and do not have any information about any regulation which says that it is not acceptable to accept charitable donations,” he said.
China has accused Uyghur exile groups and “hostile forces” in the West of fomenting unrest in Xinjiang, where the Turkic-speaking, mostly Muslim Uyghurs complain of policies favoring Han Chinese migration into their homeland and oppressive religious controls.
According to Uyghur exile leader Rebiya Kadeer—who is branded a terrorist by Beijing—as many as 10,000 Uyghurs have been reported missing since the 2009 Urumqi violence.
Most of those disappeared are believed to have been taken into custody in large-scale roundups, with little or no notice or explanation given to their relatives.
Reported by Shohret Hoshur for RFA’s Uyghur Service. Translated by Mamatjan Juma. Written in English by Rachel Vandenbrink.