An activist Uyghur doctor and nine fellow members of a foundation they set up to help poor Uyghur students in China’s remote Xinjiang region have been thrown in jail for allegedly working against the state, sources said.
The jailings were a bid by the Chinese authorities to clamp down on popular social activities aimed at boosting self-reliance among Uyghurs, who say they face increasing persecution in Xinjiang, a source said.
Memetjan Abduqadir, a former doctor at an Urumqi medical school hospital, was sentenced to 15 years in jail for “subverting state power” while the other nine from his Tewpiq Foundation received seven to nine years on related charges, the sources told RFA’s Uyghur service.
Memetjan Abduqadir was detained in October 2009, three months after the July 5, 2009 unrest between Uyghurs and Han Chinese in Xinjiang’s capital Urumqi that was China’s worst ethnic violence in decades and provoked a harsh government crackdown.
He was never released, the sources said.
The nine others were among 18 detained together with Memetjan Abduqadir but were released briefly and held again in early 2010.
All of them were held without their families being informed.
Foundation for students
The foundation, which Memetjan Abduqadir set up with schoolmate Tursunjan Ablimit in 2002 after graduating from medical school, provided financial assistance for poor or outstanding Uyghur university students in Urumqi.
It also ran free English classes and organized extracurricular activities such as soccer tournaments.
The detentions in October 2009 came as a surprise to the community.
“Memetjan was working at the hospital when this incident happened and Tursunjan was in Shenzhen to deal with a business matter for their computer company Merwayit,” said one source who used to teach English classes for the group.
The 17 were detained again in early 2010 and held for over a year without their families being informed of their whereabouts until their trial in December 2011, the source said.
Memetjan Abduqadir was given a 15-year sentence for “subverting state power,” according to the source.
Nine of the 17 other members, including Tursunjan Ablimit who was given nine years, were sentenced on related charges to between seven and nine years in prison, according to the source.
“Memetjan’s and Tursunjan’s parents learned the news about the trial date through some of their contacts and went to Urumqi, but were barred from the court. After arguing with the officials, some of their family members were allowed to attend the court session,” the source said.
“The trial was so short and no verdicts were reached. Their verdicts were mailed to their parents. Later they learned that eight of the 18 were released and 10 of them were sentenced.”
A former colleague of Memetjan Abduqadir’s at the Xinjiang Medical University No. 1 Hospital said he had not heard from him since he was detained.
“Yes I did know him. I also heard that that happened to him. But now I do not know what is really going on and what happened was unclear,” he said, adding that he had also heard Memetjan Abduqadir, who was pursuing further study in hepatology at the university, had been jailed.
Urumqi police contacted by RFA about the case refused to comment.
The foundation was legally registered with the regional charity association, the first source said, adding that the organization’s work was not politically oriented and was focused on helping poor students.
“They did not commit any crimes and they did not do anything against the state—what they did had nothing to do with politics. They were merely helping the minority students to set up goal for their lives and a will to study. All in all it was an apolitical foundation.”
“We do not know why government politicized their activity and jailed them. I think they were targeted because government felt threatened by their popularity and mission,” he said.
When the organization was founded on the Xinjiang Medical University campus, the school initially supported them, encouraging students to participate in their activities.
As their popularity increased, state broadcaster Xinjiang Television made a program about their work.
But after 2005, authorities from the state security bureau began questioning the founding members of the group.
Named after Memtili Tewpiq, a prominent educator who set up secular schools in Atush in the 1930s and died in jail after being rounded up along with other Uyghur intellectuals by Kuomintang police, the foundation’s motto was “Tewpiq: the Right Path.”
Authorities questioned members about the motto, saying “If Tewpiq is the right path, then does that mean ours is the wrong path?” the source said.
But the final crackdown on the group came after the July 2009 unrest, which authorities blamed on Uyghur separatists.
“After the 2009 incident many intellectuals were targeted. I think they were part of this,” the source said.
He added that neither Memetjan Abduqadir nor the other members had participated in the protests that rocked Urumqi.
As many as ten thousand Uyghurs, according to exile rights groups, were rounded up and forcibly disappeared amid the crackdown, which also included a 10-month Xinjiang-wide internet blackout.
Reported and translated by Mamatjan Juma for RFA’s Uyghur service. Written in English by Rachel Vandenbrink.