HONG KONG—Arzigul Tursun, six months pregnant with her third child, is under guard in a hospital in China's northwestern Xinjiang region, scheduled to undergo an abortion against her will because authorities say she is entitled to only two children.
As a member of the predominantly Muslim Uyghur minority, Tursun is legally permitted to more than the one child allowed most people in China. But when word of a third pregnancy reached local authorities, they coerced her into the hospital for an abortion, according to her husband.
"Arzigul is being kept in bed number three," a nurse in the women's section at Gulja's Water Gate Hospital said in a telephone interview. "We will give an injection first. Then she will experience abdominal pain, and the baby will come out by itself. But we haven't given her any injection yet—we are waiting for instructions from the doctors."
China's one-child-per-family policy applies mainly to majority Han Chinese but allows ethnic minorities, including Uyghurs, to have additional children, with peasants permitted to have three children and city-dwellers two.
...They have to pay a fine of 45,000 yuan (U.S. $6,590)—that's a lot of money, and they won't have it."
Family planning official Rashide
But while Tursun is a peasant, her husband, Nurmemet Tohtasin, 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.
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.
"My wife is being kept in the hospital—village officials are guarding her," Tohtisin said before authorities directed him late Thursday to switch off his mobile phone.
"When she fled the village to avoid abortion, police and Party officials, and the family planning committee officials, all came and interrogated us," he said. "The deputy chief of the village, a Chinese woman named Wei Yenhua, threatened that if we didn't find Arzigul and bring her to the village, she would confiscate our land and all our property."
On Nov. 11, Tohtisin said, an official named Rashide from the village family planning committee came to their home and escorted the couple, along with Arzigul's father, to the Gulja's municipal Water Gate Hospital.
There, Tohtisin said, he was pressured into signing forms authorizing an abortion.
"The abortion should be carried out because according to the family planning policy of China, you're not allowed to have more children than the government has regulated. Therefore she should undergo an abortion. This is their third child. She is 6-1/2 months pregnant now," Rashide said.
"If her health is normal, then the abortion will definitely take place. Otherwise they have to pay a fine in the amount of 45,000 yuan (U.S. $6,590)—that's a lot of money, and they won't have it," she added.
Arzigul Tursun's abortion was originally scheduled for Thursday, but hospital authorities said they had postponed it until Monday after numerous calls from local and exiled Uyghurs.
Officials then told her husband to switch off his mobile phone and stop making calls.
Carrots and sticks
According to the 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.
Rep. Chris Smith, a Republican from New Jersey in the U.S. House of Representatives, appealed on Thursday to Chinese Ambassador Zhou Wenzhong to intervene.
"Human rights groups and the U.S. government will be watching very carefully to see what happens to Arzigul and her family," Smith, senior member of the Congressional-Executive Commission on China, said in a statement. "I appeal to the Chinese government not to forcibly abort Arzigul."
Relations between Chinese authorities and the Uyghur population have a long and tense history.
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 regards as a war on Islamic terrorism.
It 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 Omer Kanat. Written and produced for the Web in English by Sarah Jackson-Han. Edited by Joshua Lipes.