Chinese authorities have detained a Uyghur man for tweeting “false information” about a boy who family sources say died in police custody under suspicious circumstances in the ethnically troubled Xinjiang region.
Pamir Yasin, a resident of Urumqi, Xinjiang’s capital, was placed under 15 days’ administrative detention, the Xinjiang government news website Tianshannet.com reported, after he tweeted information on the May 20 death of a boy studying at an unsanctioned religious school in Korla.
Sources close to the family told RFA that 11-year-old Mirzahid Amanullah Shahyari died in the custody of Korla police, who told his mother the boy had committed suicide under their watch and forced her to bury the body immediately.
Official Chinese media reports, however, said that he died at a hospital after being beaten by fellow students at the illegal religious school.
The case has drawn strong condemnation from the Germany-based World Uyghur Congress (WUC) which called Mirzahid’s treatment “barbaric.”
The case was “riddled with many violations of fundamental international human rights law, as well as reminiscent of the persecution that Uyghurs face on a day-to-day basis,” it said.
Pamir Yasin had written on his Sina Weibo microblog eight days after Mirzahid’s death that the boy had died in police custody.
The authorities accused him of using “distorted information” derived from foreign websites as a basis for his claim, Tianshannet.com said over the weekend.
It said the information he had republished and discussed online was “connected to hostile outside forces that maliciously fabricate [and] distorted facts.”
WUC Spokesman Dilxat Raxit condemned the punishment meted out to Pamir Yasin, accusing the authorities of covering up the beating of the boy in detention and spreading “distorted information” of their own.
Pamir Yasin’s detention follows the jailing of several Uyghurs for online activities since July 2009 violence that rocked the Xinjiang capital of Urumqi. They were all sentenced on charges of “endangering state security.”
Pamir Yasin was a contributor to the Uighurbiz.net website, a site on Uyghur news and issues founded by Uyghur economist Ilham Tohti that recently re-opened after being shut down by the authorities.
According to posts on the website, Pamir Yasin had gotten the information about Mirzahid’s death from reports by RFA’s Uyghur service.
Information is strictly controlled in Xinjiang, where authorities shut down the Internet in the entire region for ten months following the July 2009 violence.
Pamir Yasin is being held under Article 47 of China’s Public Security Administration Punishment Law, which allows authorities to detain citizens without trial for up to 15 days for “inciting ethnic hatred or ethnic discrimination or publishing ethnically discriminatory or insulting content in printed materials or online.”
Death in custody
Sources close to Mirzahid’s family continue to question the circumstances under which he died.
They said Mirzahid, from Nurbagh township, Shayar county, in western Xinjiang’s Aksu prefecture, was first taken into custody along with his teacher and three other students in a late-night crackdown on their forbidden Islamic study group.
The next day, Korla police called his mother, Rizwangul, in Nurbagh and told her Mirzahid had killed himself by hitting his head against a wall while in their custody, the sources said.
When Mirzahid’s body was returned to her the next day, she found it had blood on one side of the head, bruises as if he had been beaten with a stick, and a line on his neck as if he had been choked, the sources said.
When she began washing the body to prepare it for burial, Shayar police came to her home and prevented others from visiting.
Police told her she must bury him immediately without speaking to others about his death.
She was told to inform those who inquired about him that he had gone to study at a technology school in Urumqi and fallen off of a building, the sources said.
On May 22, authorities forced her to bury him without reciting prayers from the Koran, they said.
The following day, police came to Nurbagh again and took Mirzahid’s uncle, his father's younger brother, into custody, saying he had passed on information to foreign media, the sources said.
Mirzahid’s mother had sent him to study in the unsanctioned school in Korla because she did not want him to attend public school, the sources said.
Religious activity is strictly controlled in the Xinjiang region, home to nine million mostly Muslim Uyghurs, and children under 18 are forbidden from receiving a religious education or attending mosque.
Mirzahid, who would have turned 12 in August, had first been sent to another school in Hotan when he was seven years old, but the teacher sent him home again out of safety concerns, the source said.
Mirzahid’s father, Amanullah Shahyari, has been living in Mecca, Saudi Arabia, for the past 11 years.
From there, he had applied for the other members of the family to move to Turkey under a program for Uyghurs instituted following the July 5, 2009 ethnic violence in Urumqi.
Two months ago, the Turkish government granted Mirzahid, his mother, and older brother Miradil permission to live there.
But the three had not been able to leave China because authorities had taken their identity cards and would not allow them to get passports, sources said.
Reported by Mihray Abdilim and Mamatjan Juma for RFA’s Uyghur service. Translated by Mihray Abdilim and Dolkun Kamberi. Written in English by Rachel Vandenbrink.