An outspoken ethnic minority Uyghur mother has been detained for nearly one month for “incitement” after raising a public outcry in the capital of northwestern China’s Xinjiang region over the long-running case of her missing son, according to a local source.
Patigul Ghulam was taken into custody by police officers on May 27, just five days after a deadly attack on a market in the Xinjiang capital Urumqi which authorities blamed on separatists, a neighbor told RFA’s Uyghur Service over the weekend, citing the woman’s daughter.
“I heard about her detention from her daughter, Patime Eli, who was accompanying her mom from home to the Urumqi City Police Department,” the neighbor said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
Ghulam had been summoned to the police department in the aftermath of the market attack for questioning, following which Eli was ordered to return home without her mother, she said.
Outside of the department, when Patime Eli asked why her mother was not allowed to leave, the police told her that they had “strong evidence that proves she was involved in an illegal activity,” according to the neighbor. Police did not indicate when she would be released.
“She insisted to know what the illegal activity was and the police told her, ‘Your mom incited the people against our government by raising an outcry in public’.”
The police did not specify what action by Gulham led to her detention, though she has frequently spoken out against the authorities, who she says are complicit in her son’s disappearance during one of China’s worst incidents of ethnic violence in decades in Urumqi in July 2009.
The neighbor said that Patime Eli demanded that they detain her as well, but she was pulled away and told, “You are committing the same mistake as your mom—you are trying to draw public attention and cause an incident.”
“[The government] was acting desperately and irrationally after the morning market attack, which is the only reason why Patigul Ghulam was detained,” the neighbor added.
“Actually, she has been speaking out and complaining about the government ever since her son disappeared—she has never stopped talking, including to any foreign reporters she has been able to reach.”
The May 22 Urumqi market incident, in which unidentified attackers plowed two motor vehicles into an open market and set off explosives, left 31 people dead and more than 90 injured, prompting authorities to launch a one-year anti-terrorism campaign in the region.
The death toll is believed to be the highest in Xinjiang violence since bloody riots in Urumqi in 2009 between Uyghurs and majority Han Chinese left almost 200 people dead.
Ghulam has been one of the most vocal Uyghurs who have been pressing the authorities on the whereabouts of family members missing during the violence in Urumqi on July 5, 2009.
She has said that her son, Imammemet Eli, 25, was taken by police on July 14, 2009 and that the last time she heard about him was nine months later when fellow inmates said he was found severely tortured and taken to a hospital.
He is among several thousand, according to Uyghur exile groups, who were forcibly disappeared in the aftermath of the 2009 ethnic unrest.
Ghulam’s detention marks her second by authorities in three years, having been held for seven days in 2011 for “insulting police.”
Since she began the search for her son, she has also been subjected to virtual house arrest, placed under surveillance, and prevented from traveling to certain public areas in Urumqi, including the Grand Bazaar marketplace and People’s Square, especially during meetings by regional officials or when foreign diplomats are visiting the city.
Ghulam has said that she will speak to whoever will listen about her plight and her struggle to find her son despite efforts by Chinese police and officials to obstruct her.
She has received frequent warnings by authorities after speaking with members of the foreign press.
“I don’t have a gun, I have only my mouth and my tears, and you cannot control them,” Ghulam once said during one of her interrogations, according to reports.
Gulham’s last public outcry was in January last year during a visit to Urumqi by Turkish opposition leader Kemal Kılıcdaroglu, whose country is home to a substantial Uyghur population and to whom she had written an open letter urging him not to believe the “lies” that the Chinese government had told him about its policies in Xinjiang.
At the time, authorities took her from her home and detained her, along with several other family members of Uyghurs who are believed to have been disappeared by the authorities, and was not released until Kılıcdaroglu had left the city.
When asked whether she feared punishment for her repeated public appeals, Gulham said that the authorities could do nothing that would hurt her more than the loss of her son.
“I know that I could be subjected to interrogation and even more than that, but I am willing to face any kind of danger, because there is no bigger punishment for a mother than losing a son,” she said.
“Now, my everyday life is kind of a torture.”
Reported by Shohret Hoshur for RFA’s Uyghur Service. Translated by Shohret Hoshur. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.