Uyghur torchbearer for 2008 Beijing Olympics serving 14-year sentence in Xinjiang

Adil Abdurehim was jailed for watching counter-revolutionary videos, a police officer says.
By Shohret Hoshur
Torchbearers hold the Olympic flame at the opening ceremony of the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing, China, Aug. 8, 2008.
Associated Press

A Uyghur who served as a torchbearer in the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing and was a loyal Chinese government official is serving a 14-year jail sentence for watching counter-revolutionary videos, caught in a crackdown on the ethnic minority group, officials in Xinjiang’s capital Urumqi said.

Adil Abdurehim, a member of the Chinese Communist Party and a former employee of the Culture and Sports Bureau of Saybagh district in Urumqi (in Chinese, Wulumuqi) has been in prison for five years, said a local police officer.

The confirmation of his detention came following China’s deployment of Uyghur cross-country skier Dilnigar Ilhamjan, (Dinigeer Yilamujiang) as the final torchbearer along with Zhao Jiwen, a skier from China’s dominant Han majority, at the opening ceremony of the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics on Feb. 4.

Her surprise appearance sparked social media discussions on the fate of Uyghur torchbearers at the 2008 Beijing Olympics, wondering if the 20-year-old Dilnigar might later face some of the repressive measures that the Chinese government has inflicted upon Uyghurs.

Dilxat Raxit, spokesperson for the Germany based World Uyghur Congress, told RFA's Mandarin Service that more than 20 Uyghurs had been detained or fined in Kashgar (in Chinese, Kashi), Aksu (Akesu), and Korla (Kuerle) for posting critical comments about Dilnigar .

"China organized local Uyghurs to attend the Winter Olympics celebration events and tried to spread false and twisted information to the outside so as to cover up the genocide, Raxit said.

Abduweli Ayup, a Norway-based Uyghur activist and linguist who documents missing and imprisoned Uyghurs in Xinjiang, had tweeted that Adil was one of the 2008 Olympic torchbearers. He carried the torch in Saybagh district.

He told RFA that Chinese officials selected him for the same reason they chose Dilnigar — “to whitewash the atrocities Uyghurs are facing” in China’s far-western Xinjiang region.

“In 2008 when Beijing hosted the Olympics, he was a torchbearer,” he said, “We saw him on TV.”

Adil attended Chinese schools in Xinjiang and studied in Russia in the 1990s, Abduweli said. Later that decade, he began working in Urumqi’s Saybagh district. Adil’s father also was a loyal civil servant of the Chinese in the Kashgar prefecture government.

Abduweli said he learned in 2019 that Adil had been arrested as the Chinese government began stepping up repression of Uyghurs in 2017. He said Adil had been an active Chinese government official in the Culture and Sports Bureau in Urumqi and had been favored by Chinese authorities.

“I heard in 2019 that Adil was arrested and confirmed it in 2020 with a credible source,” he told RFA.

Abduweli also said that Adil is related to him. When the researcher previously made inquiries about his brother, Erkin Ayup, and niece, Mihray Erkin, who had been detained, he hoped that Adil would be able to find out news about them because of his government position. But instead, Abduweli learned that Adil himself had been detained.

Adil’s name was also on the Chinese government’s leaked “Shanghai List” of the names of some 10,000 “suspected terrorists,” most of whom are ethnic Uyghurs, including hundreds of minors and the elderly, Abduweli said.

Analysts believe the list, a copy of which was obtained by RFA, was compiled in 2018 at the latest. It contains entries for Uyghurs from all walks of life and provides rare insight into how Beijing characterizes threats it has used to lock up Uyghurs.

China is believed to have held 1.8 million Uyghurs and other Turkic minorities held in a network of detention camps in Xinjiang since 2017. Beijing has said that the camps are vocational training centers and has denied widespread and documented allegations that it has mistreated Muslims living in Xinjiang.

To confirm Adil’s detention, RFA contacted the Saybagh district office of the Urumqi Municipal Culture and Sports Bureau. Initially, one employee said Adil Abdurehim did not work there. But another employee later confirmed that Adil had worked there.

“Yes, there used to be someone [by that name] in one of our bureaus,” the second employee said.

An official from neighboring Tenghritagh district Culture and Tourism Bureau, formerly called the Culture and Sports Bureau, in Urumqi also confirmed that Adil had been taken away by authorities, but he refused to answer additional questions.

Later, the police officer at the Urumqi security bureau also confirmed that Adil was in detention, having already served five years of a 14-year sentence for watching counter-revolutionary videos. Such charges applied to those who view or possess religious or foreign content.

Kamaltürk Yalqun, the son of Yalqun Rozi, a well-known Uyghur editor detained in 2016, was one of the students selected to carry the Olympic flame before the 2008 Summer Games in Beijing.

In an interview with the Associated Press last week, Kamaltürk, now an activist living in the United States, called for a boycott of the 2022 Beijing Games over China’s maltreatment of the Uyghurs.

“It seems to me that our sense of global citizenship and sportsmanship is not moving forward with these Olympic Games anymore,” he was quoted as saying.

Kamaltürk, whose father is serving a 15-year sentence for attempting to subvert the Chinese state, later told RFA that he would not stop fighting for Uyghurs’ rights and dignity.

“I will not stop my fight for my father and for my people until justice has been served,” he said.

More than a dozen nations, including the U.S., imposed a diplomatic boycott of the Winter Olympics, which begin on Feb. 4 and run to Feb 20.

Translated by RFA’s Uyghur Service. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.


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