An ethnic Uyghur woman detained this week at an airport in Turkey and fearing deportation to China’s Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR) has been released from custody and allowed to join her family in Istanbul, RFA’s Uyghur Service has learned.
Released just after 5:00 p.m. on Wednesday, and speaking by phone to RFA’s Uyghur Service, Rushengul Tashmuhemmet tearfully thanked everyone who had called for her freedom from detention, while her husband Omurbek Eli also voiced his thanks, saying, “I am so excited to see my wife and son. Thank you! Thank you all!”
Also speaking to RFA, Hidayetulla Oghuzhan, President of the East Turkestan Organizations in Turkey, said international media coverage of Tashmuhemmet’s situation had helped to secure her release.
Turkish immigration authorities did not respond to calls seeking comment Wednesday, and it is unclear whether any conditions were attached to Tashmuhemmet’s permission to enter Turkey.
Tashmuhemmet was detained by passport control officers at Istanbul’s Ataturk Airport after arriving there by plane from Kazakhstan’s Almaty city with her young son at around 9:00 p.m. on Sunday, she told RFA’s Uyghur Service by telephone earlier this week.
“They stopped me here at the airport, saying my passport has a problem,” she said, adding that authorities had not informed her of the specific issue with her documents.
“Please help. I am sitting here with my son and I pray that one day I will be reunited with the rest of my family.”
Harassed by authorities
Tashmuhemmet had been living in Almaty with her husband Omurbek Eli, a 41-year-old Kazakh national of mixed Uyghur and Kazakh heritage from the XUAR, and the couple’s three children.
Eli was arrested by police in the XUAR’s Turpan (in Chinese, Tulufan) prefecture in 2017 while visiting his parents and accused of “terrorist activities.” He was refused legal representation and imprisoned for more than seven months, despite never having been tried by a court of law.
Eli was eventually freed with the assistance of the Kazakh government and returned to Kazakhstan, but left the country for Turkey in May, saying he had faced harassment from local authorities for speaking to RFA earlier this year about his detention in China.
His two older children relocated to Turkey soon after to join him.
Tashmuhemmet stayed behind in Almaty while awaiting the issuance of Kazakh travel documents for the couple’s youngest son, who was born in Kazakhstan. After the papers were recently processed, the two of them traveled to Turkey on Sunday, when they were detained at immigration.
Beginning in April 2017, Uyghurs accused of harboring “strong religious views” and “politically incorrect” ideas have been jailed or detained in political “re-education camps” throughout the XUAR, where members of the ethnic group have long complained of pervasive discrimination, religious repression, and cultural suppression under Chinese rule.
The position of China's central government authorities has evolved from denying that large numbers of Uyghurs have been incarcerated in camps to disputing that the facilities are political re-education camps. Beijing now describes the camps as educational centers.
Credible sources suggest that some 1.1 million people are or have been detained in the camps, which equates to 10-11 percent of the adult Muslim population of the region.
Reported by Gulchehra Hoja for RFA’s Uyghur Service. Translated by Alim Seytoff. Written in English by Richard Finney.