Chinese authorities have ordered further investigations into the case of an ethnic minority Uyghur blogger and activist languishing in jail with health problems after being detained for collecting donations to run Uyghur schools in the troubled Xinjiang region, his family said.
Abduweli Ayup, a 39-year-old active promoter of the Uyghur language, was arrested in Kashgar city along with two of his business partners in August last year. Last month, a relative said she had learned that Ayup was “seriously ill.”
The authorities, in the first official communication with Ayup’s family, said the trio is being held in Urumqi, the capital of the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, his nephew Mirshat told RFA’s Uyghur Service.
But the authorities did not provide any information on his current condition, the status of his two partners, or what charges they are facing.
“My older uncle … was informed by the authorities that Abduweli’s case had been returned to Kashgar for further investigation,” he said, adding that Ayup’s brother had spent more than a week in Urumqi trying to obtain information.
“According to my uncle, Abduweli will probably be taken to court soon in Urumqi … not in Kashgar … This news gives us a little hope of an end to the waiting.”
While Mirshat said his uncle had confirmed through the authorities that Ayup and his partners Dilyar Obul and Muhemmet Sidik were being held in Urumqi, he was unable to learn which prison the three men were located in.
“This is the first [official] information about my Uncle Abduweli’s situation we have received since he was detained five months ago,” Mirshat said.
“Two weeks ago, my aunt [Ayup’s sister] traveled to Urumqi to find out about my Uncle Abduweli, but her demand for information was refused by the authorities. She did not learn anything about my detained uncle. It made us so upset.”
In late December, another of Ayup’s family members said on condition of anonymity that he had become “seriously ill” during his incarceration and that attempts by relatives to meet with him had been refused by authorities.
The family member said that attempts to send medicine and money to Ayup through the authorities had been turned down despite information that he was “very weak and his health is in seriously bad condition.”
Police had said at the time of the arrest that he and his colleagues had “illegally collected donations” to run Uyghur schools in Xinjiang.
The Uyghur Online website—which discusses Uyghur social issues and carries news from Xinjiang—had reported in December that Ayup and his colleagues would be tried in January.
Meanwhile, Mirshat said, Ayup’s wife and young daughter were staying with his grandmother in Kashgar.
“My aunt is working as a Uyghur ‘mother tongue’ instructor at the Yusup Hass Hajip Language Training School,” he said, referring to the school that Ayup had opened in Kashgar.
“She teaches the mother tongue and several other courses to Uyghur children.”
Before Ayup’s arrest, authorities had closed down the school, which at the time was a Uyghur-language kindergarten, and had refused to allow him and his partners to open another Uyghur school in Urumqi, according to relatives.
But the Kashgar school was permitted to reopen earlier this month as a “tutoring institute” for instruction in Uyghur, Chinese, and English that can only operate during official school vacations and under close government scrutiny, Mirshat said.
He said that his family had their hopes restored when they received the news about Ayup’s case.
“My grandmother Tukhan is still asking about her detained son Abduweli. She is elderly and did not understand the process of this case,” he said.
“My family has told me that my grandmother became very excited when she heard the first news in five months about my Uncle Abuweli’s case.”
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 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 several times to “drink tea”—a common euphemism for what is effectively an interrogation session—by the police.
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.
Reported by Eset Sulaiman for RFA’s Uyghur Service. Translated by Eset Sulaiman. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.