Uyghur Woman Released, Without Forced Abortion

A Uyghur woman in China avoids a forced abortion, in a case that has drawn international attention.
2008-11-18
Email story
Comment on this story
Share story
Print story
  • Print
  • Share
  • Comment
  • Email
Uyghurs-hotan-305.jpg
HOTAN, China: Young Uyghur boys pose with a girl holding a soccer ball, Oct. 13, 2006
AFP

HONG KONG—An ethnic Uyghur woman in China’s northwestern Xinjiang region who was scheduled to undergo a second-term abortion against her will—and whose case drew international attention—has been released to her family and allowed to continue her pregnancy.

“I am all right and I am at home now,” Arzigul Tursun told RFA’s Uyghur service, shortly after she was released from the Women and Children’s Welfare Hospital in Ili prefecture.

“I brought her home,” the local population-control committee chief, Rashide, said. “She wasn’t in good enough health to have an abortion.”

It was a big operation—and they treated us very rudely."

Arzigul Tursun's father

Tursun’s case prompted calls to the Chinese authorities from two members of the U.S. Congress and from the U.S. ambassador in Beijing for a planned abortion of her pregnancy to be scrapped.

Police tracked down Arzigul Tursun, six months pregnant with her third child, on Monday at a private home after she fled Gulja's municipal Water Gate Hospital, relatives said.

China's one-child-per-family policy applies mainly to majority Han Chinese and allows ethnic minorities, including Uyghurs, to have additional children, with peasants permitted to have three children and city-dwellers two. But while Tursun is a peasant, her husband is from the city of Gulja [in Chinese, Yining], so their status is unclear.

The couple live with their two children in Bulaq village, Dadamtu township, in Gulja, in the remote northwestern Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region. Their experience sheds rare light on how China's one-child policy is enforced in remote parts of the country through fines, financial incentives, and heavy-handed coercion by zealous local officials eager to meet population targets set by cadres higher up.

Police operation

On Monday, Tursun’s father Hasan Tursunjan said, between 20 and 30 police cars came to the family home to search for his daughter and take her to the hospital to terminate her pregnancy.

“It was a big operation—and they treated us very rudely,” he said. “They confiscated all our cellphones, but I hid one. One of them was pushing my forehead and saying, ‘You have connections with the separatists in America—see if they can come and rescue your daughter or not.’”

“I was very upset at what he did to me and said, ‘I believe they will rescue us, if not today then tomorrow, and if not tomorrow then the day after tomorrow—they will eventually rescue us,’” Tursunjan said.

“My youngest son was upset and rushed to us and shouted… ‘Don't touch my father!’ The [official] immediately called a few police over and they arrested him. They took him away with a car.”

“When the car I was in came close to the Gulja electrical power station, I saw many police cars were next to a residential neighborhood. I heard from police that they learned my daughter Arzigul was in this neighborhood but they didn’t know where,” he said.

“I told them , ‘Let's go to my relative’s house in the city. I will take you all there.’ They agreed to follow me, but not all of them came with us. Most stayed around that neighborhood,” he said.

“After they searched a house in the city, they took me back to the suspected neighborhood. I saw many police cars. Many people from the neighborhood were watching. My daughter was leaning against the wall of one the buildings and crying. I was very sad…I rushed to her and embraced her. I told her not to cry and wiped her tears.”

Tursunjan said his daughter had been staying with a friend when police found her. “They searched that house. Everything was turned upside down,” he said.

High-level intervention

Two members of the U.S. Congress called on authorities in China to release Tursun and cancel the planned abortion.

Rep. Joe Pitts of Pennsylvania on Monday urged officials to "immediately intervene in order to stop any forced abortion from taking place.” On Friday, Rep. Chris Smith of New Jersey, ranking member on the Congressional-Executive Commission on China, called forced abortions a "barbaric practice" and made a personal appeal to Chinese ambassador Zhou Wenzhong.

Smith also contacted U.S. Ambassador to China Clark Randt and asked him to intervene. Randt spoke with the executive vice foreign minister, Wang Guanya, Smith’s office said.

Detailed policy

According to China’s official news agency, Xinhua, Uyghurs in the countryside are permitted three children while city-dwellers may have two. Under “special circumstances,” rural families are permitted one more child, although what constitutes special circumstances was unclear.

The government also uses financial incentives and disincentives to keep the birthrate low. Couples can also pay steep fines to have more children, although the fines are well beyond most people's means.

The official Web site China Xinjiang Web reports that in Kashgar, Hotan, and Kizilsu [in Chinese, Kezilesu], areas populated almost entirely by Uyghurs, women over 49 with only one child are entitled to a one-time payment of 3,000 yuan (U.S. $440), with the couple receiving 600 yuan (U.S. $88) yearly afterward.

China's official Tianshan Net reported that population control policies in Xinjiang have prevented the births of some 3.7 million people over the last 30 years. And according to China Xinjiang Web on Sept. 26, 2008, the government will spend 25.6 million yuan (U.S. $3.7 million) this year rewarding families who have followed the population policy.

The one-child policy is enforced more strictly in cities, but penalties for exceeding a family's quota can be severe, including job losses, demotions, or expulsion from the Party, experts say.

Officials at all levels are subject to rewards or penalties based on whether they meet population targets set by their administrative region. Citizens are legally entitled to sue officials who they believe have overstepped their authority in enforcing the policy.

Tense relations

Relations between Chinese authorities and the predominantly Muslim Uyghur population in Xinjiang have a long and tense history, with many Uyghurs objecting in particular to the mass immigration of Han Chinese to the region and to Beijing’s population-control policy.

Uyghurs formed two short-lived East Turkestan republics in the 1930s and 40s during the Chinese civil war and the Japanese invasion. But China subsequently took control of the region, and Beijing has in recent years launched a campaign against Uyghur separatism, which it calls a war on Islamic terrorism.

Beijing has also accused “hostile forces” in the West of fomenting unrest in the strategically important and resource-rich region, which borders several countries in Central Asia.

Original reporting in Uyghur by Shohret Hoshur. Uyghur service director: Dolkun Kamberi. Translated by Alim Abdulkerim. Written and produced in English by Sarah Jackson-Han.