Updated at 11:30 a.m. EST on 2012-02-06 and at 02:30 p.m. EST on 2015-01-23
A Uyghur mother has been held pending trial for eight months after petitioning Chinese authorities for redress over her son’s attempted kidnapping, according to police and residents in her hometown in northwestern Xinjiang region.
Residents said Nurungul Tohti, who had petitioned authorities in Beijing and another eastern city Dalian since 2009, was being held in the Uchturpan County Detention Center in Xinjang’s Aksu prefecture with no formal notice of her arrest being given to her family.
She had previously faced pressure from authorities and been held in a “black jail” after calling for justice over the failure by Dalian police to investigate a suspected child trafficking ring linked to the abduction of her seven-year-old son.
Nurungul Tohti—who had secured her son’s release after confronting the abductors herself—had also appealed to the U.N. and foreign embassies in Beijing about her case, saying that her treatment was example of ethnic discrimination by officials against China’s Uyghur minority.
An Uchturpan police officer, Alkam Anwar, told RFA’s Uyghur Service in January that she was being held for threatening national security and that no date had been set for her trial.
“Nurungul Tohti was arrested because she was disrupting the peace and security of the nation. She is still being questioned. No trial date has been given yet,” he said.
He refused to give further details of her situation, saying her case was “sensitive.”
Uchturpan residents who knew Nurugul Tohti said she had been taken away by local authorities on June 4, 2012, following a meeting with police who had questioned her about her activities in Beijing.
“Two government officials from the Uchturpan County came and asked her to go with them for a meeting. Then they just locked her up,” a local resident who witnessed the arrest said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
Quizzed about fellow petitioners
Days before her arrest, Nurungul Tohti had told RFA that two officials from the Uchturpan County Police Department met with her on May 25, asking her to provide details of her past visits to foreign embassies and the U.N. office in Beijing.
“They came from the police department and asked me who I knew in Beijing and of my relationships with the other petitioners there at the time,” she said in the interview last year.
The police told her that they would respond to her with the conclusions of their meeting within 10 days, she said.
She said she had asked the police, “Since you have so many people here [in China] and you possess all the weapons, why don’t you just shoot me instead of torturing me like this?”
“The people know that I am innocent; they know that I am only fighting for justice on behalf of my son.”
The Chinese government receives millions of complaints every year through its “letters and visits” petitioning system, though Uyghurs taking their grievances to Chinese channels in the faraway capital is less common.
To deal with petitioners, China employs a system of dispatching local authorities to provincial capitals and to Beijing, where they detain, beat, and otherwise harass petitioners in a bid to make them drop their cases, sources say.
China also faces a scourge of child abductions and has a thriving black market in children wanted for labor and adoption. In the past two and a half years, some 54,000 children have been rescued from traffickers, according to government statistics.
Reported by Shohret Hoshur for RFA’s Uyghur Service. Written in English by Rachel Vandenbrink.
Correction: An earlier version of this story did not include initial court charges against Nurungul Tohti and said she faced charges of disrupting public order.
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story gave an incorrect spelling of Nurungul Tohti's name as 'Nurgul.'