HONG KONG—Authorities in China’s northwestern Xinjiang region have detained a disabled man from the ethnic Uyghur minority on suspicion of endangering national security, according to the man’s father and local officials. The case sheds new light on how national security laws are applied in one of poorest, most remote corners of China.
Abdushukur Kurban, 32 and a father of three, suffered burns over 60 percent of his body in a 1995 traffic accident, his father said. He was taken into custody late Nov. 21 from his home in Penjim township, a poor farming community several kilometers outside Gulja city.
“I heard this news from the neighbors first,” his father, Kurban Memet Ali, said. “He was taken from his own home. I went to the police next day, but they didn’t tell me anything.”
“The next day I went again and they told me that my son was under investigation and interrogation, but they still didn’t tell where he was held and for what reason. On Nov. 26, they gave us a notice that said my son was arrested because he was suspected as a threat to the national security.”
We didn’t arrest him. We invited him to the police station."
Penjim township police chief Ablet Jumahun
The notice indicated that Kurban was held for a day at the village police station and then transferred to the Gulja city Yengi Hayat (New Life) prison.
“The police said, ‘Your son is a second-degree handicapped person, so he wasn’t subject to intense pressure or torture during interrogation,” his father said. “They said he didn’t confess any of his crimes, so now they are looking for another suspect who is connected to my son.”
“We asked them to release him on bail, but they refused. They didn’t even accept his clothing and blankets.”
The detention notice, read aloud by Kurban’s younger sister, states: “In accordance with Article 61 of the PRC criminal code, we have detained suspect Abdushukur Kurban for the alleged crime of endangering the national security of PRC, Nov. 21, 2008. He is now at the Gulja city detention center. 2008-11-22. Case officer: Ablikim Hamit.”
Ali said he feared asking too many questions and irritating the authorities. “Our family is on a watch list. I was in prison for a year,” he said, for harboring a religious teacher who was wanted by the authorities.
“In 1999, we found a religious teacher some time after my son Abdushukur was injured. We wanted him to learn something and be strong after his injury. But not long after, the government started to look for this religious teacher. People from our village hid him in their homes for two or three days each…From our village, 12 heads of household were sentenced to between one and three years. I was sentenced for one year.”
The teacher, Muhtar Rehmutull, was sentenced to 17 years in 1999 and remains in Urumqi Bajiahu prison for supporting and inciting the 1997 Gulja uprising against Chinese rule, he said.
The police chief in Penjim township, Ablet Jumahun, confirmed that Kurban had been questioned.
“We didn’t arrest him. We invited him to the police station,” Jumahun said. Asked how long he was interrogated, Jumahan replied, “About two hours. After that he was taken to the city. I don’t know after that.”
An officer in the Gulja city police bureau, who identified himself only as Talet, declined to discuss details of the case. “This is confidential,” he said when asked why Kurban was detained. “We can’t reveal anything to anyone.”
Talet confirmed that Kurban had been held at Yengi Hayat prison, however. “If the case doesn’t have broad involvement, we will notify the parents,” Talet said. Asked why Kurban’s family wasn’t notified of his detention for five days, Talet replied, “We notified them from the beginning. Your information is not accurate.”
Asked if Kurban was detained as a national security threat, he said, “No, you can’t assume that right now. It is something different.”
Many Uyghurs jailed
According to the most recent annual report by the Congressional-Executive Commission on China (CECC), Chinese’s "strike hard" campaigns have resulted in high rates of incarceration among Uyghurs in Xinjiang.
Statistics from official Chinese sources indicate that cases of "endangering state security" from the region account for a significant percentage of the nationwide total, in some years possibly comprising most of the cases in China. In August 2008, Chinese media reported that Xinjiang courts would "regard ensuring [state] security and social stability [as] their primary task," the CECC reported.
The Uyghurs are a Turkic-speaking minority group that formed two short-lived East Turkestan republics in the 1930s and 40s during the Chinese civil war and the Japanese invasion.
In its 2008 report on human rights worldwide, New York-based Human Rights Watch cited "drastic controls over religious, cultural, and political expression" by Uyghurs in Xinjiang.
"There is widespread evidence that the government uses isolated incidents to conflate any expression of public discontent with terrorism or separatism," it said.
Many Uyghurs oppose Beijing’s rule in Xinjiang. Beijing blames Uyghur separatists for sporadic bombings and other violence in the Xinjiang region.
But diplomats and foreign experts are skeptical. International rights groups have accused Beijing of using the U.S. “war on terror” to crack down on non-violent supporters of Uyghur independence.
Overseas rights groups say untold numbers of people were killed in the Gulja unrest of February 1997, in a crackdown that went largely unnoticed by the outside world.
Original reporting by Shohret Hoshur for RFA’s Uyghur service. Translated by Alim Abdulkerim. Uyghur service director: Dolkun Kamberi. Written and produced in English by Sarah Jackson-Han.