Supporting a Loved One in Jail

The wife and sister of a Uyghur political prisoner describe a two-decade-long family ordeal.
2012-03-22
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Women protest in front of an official government media tour in Urumqi one day after they said police rounded up 300 men in their neighborhood, a hot spot during the July 5 rioting.
Women protest in front of an official government media tour in Urumqi one day after they said police rounded up 300 men in their neighborhood, a hot spot during the July 5 rioting.
AFP

On April 5, 1990, hundreds of Uyghur farmers rose up against Chinese rule in Barin township in China’s northwestern Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region under the leadership of Zeydin Yusup.

The rebellion, in Xinjiang’s far western Aqtu county, was quickly put down by Chinese troops employing lethal force. It is unclear how many were killed in the crackdown, but some reports say around 3,000 Uyghur men were rounded up and jailed and some 200 were later sentenced to death.

Mahat Hasan was one of 50 men detained by Chinese authorities in Barin town’s Qoghan village. He was taken into custody on April 15, 1990 and, after serving two years in detention, sentenced to death for participating in the rebellion. His sentence was later commuted to life in prison.

His family was refused permission to attend his trial and still has not been informed what crime he was convicted of. Mahat Hassan died last month in prison, becoming the fifth Uyghur of the Qoghan villagers to perish while serving a life sentence, according to his wife Asim Khan. Five others are still serving life sentences.

Here Asim Khan and his sister, Busaram Hassan, describe the agonizing experience of watching a loved one waste away as a political prisoner in a Chinese jail.


Asim Khan:

My husband died in the Urumqi Bajahu jail on Feb. 10, 2012. They called us and said he passed away in the morning. He was buried on Feb. 14.

At the time [he was taken into custody] they captured every man in our neighborhood except for from one family. Some of them were released after a few years and some of them passed away after they were released. But five of the 10 people who were sentenced to life died in prison and the rest are still there.

I last saw [my husband] in November when his sister, my daughter, and I went to see him. He was immobile and in the jail hospital. He was never sick before, but after he was jailed he developed many illnesses, including asthma, anemia, and a general weakness. If he was tortured, he never had a chance to tell us about it.

He was in a jail hospital and it wasn’t very nice. We asked him where he was in pain. He said there was nothing in particular, but that he was suffering from anemia … the police report in November confirmed that. We cried at his bedside and paid the hospital to conduct a blood transfusion. We still don’t know if they ever went ahead with it.

We had seen him in August and at that time he wasn’t even able to stand up for himself. There were two people assisting him to walk by holding him under the arms. I asked him if he was in pain, but he said no, that he would be fine if he was able to eat more nutritious foods. We didn’t know that he was sick and maybe he couldn’t bring himself to tell us.

They have a rule of not returning bodies of prisoners to their families. He was buried in a graveyard in Urumqi, but we were not allowed to attend because they said it was against religious practices. Before he was buried, and after they washed his body, they showed us his face. He looked very thin because he had been in the hospital for two years … He was 48 years old.

I was married to him for 31 years. We lived together for nine years and he was in jail for the other 22 years. I have two daughters. When my husband was detained, my oldest daughter was only one and a half years old. Now she is married and I have a grandchild.

Busaram Hassan:

Yes, Mahat has passed away. Agony is devouring our hearts. We had another brother who passed away 10 years earlier because he suffered so much for Mahat and couldn’t take it anymore. He had high blood pressure and developed a stroke … My body is wracked with sickness right now for the suffering of my brother. My heart is gone.

At the time Mahat was taken into custody we couldn’t find out where he was. We looked in Kashgar, Atush and Aqtu. Two years later we finally found out that he was in Atush. We tried visiting him but it was extremely difficult. When we brought things the guards would not take them to him.

They did not even explain to us why our brother was there or what his crime was. Most of the time we tried to visit we were not allowed to see him. When I saw him I would be hospitalized right after [due to my grief]. The past 22 years were spent like that. One of my sisters even found a cleaning job in Urumqi in order to be closer to our brother, but it did not help too much.

We saw him on Nov. 22. They called us to say that Mahat’s condition was turning worse … He was already unconscious when I got to his ward. I held his head and cried, ‘Brother I am here, please open your eyes. …‘ He couldn’t even hold his head up and was wetting the bed. His clothes were soaked with sweat. His lips were cracked and he would not eat his momu (steamed bun). I cried.

The next day … I demanded to see the head warden and waited in Urumqi for six days. At one point, I waited for him for eight hours in front of the jail in the freezing cold. At about 3:30 p.m. … the warden came out and I demanded that he put my brother into our custody so that we could care for him. But they refused. Now he is gone.

When I last saw him, there were no signs of life. He lay there unconscious. The doctors told me he had tuberculosis, kidney disease, asthma, and anemia and that he was in the last stage of his life. They said I should prepare for the worst. I asked them to give him to us instead of torturing him, but they said they couldn’t do anything for political prisoners.

Reported by Mamatjan Juma for RFA’s Uyghur service. Translated by Mamatjan Juma. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.

CH. 1: MANDARIN | CANTONESE

CH. 2: VIETNAMESE | BURMESE | KOREAN

CH. 3: KHMER | LAO | UYGHUR

CH. 4: TIBETAN

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