Interview: ‘It Hurts my Heart to See my Children Cry For Their Mother’
The husband and mother of a Uyghur woman held in a political ‘re-education camp’ appeal for help in freeing her.
Amina Allahberdi, a 32-year-old Uyghur woman from Aksu (in Chinese, Akesu) prefecture, in northwest China’s Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR) married Saudi Arabian national Sait Ibn Abood Shahrani in 2010 and relocated to Saudi Arabia’s Khamis Mushait city soon after. The mother of a nine-year-old daughter and a four-year-old son frequently visited her family in Aksu, and in 2016 completed a months-long beautician course in the XUAR capital Urumqi with the intention of setting up a beauty salon in Saudi Arabia. Allahberdi travelled to Urumqi on May 15 last year, after Saudi authorities asked that she return to the XUAR to renew her documents before establishing her business. Soon after arriving, Allahberdi notified her husband that she would not be allowed to renew her passport unless he came to China with additional documentation, so the couple met in the Guangdong provincial capital Guangzhou, where she took her marriage certificate and other papers, and left for Urumqi without him—insisting that he not accompany her.
When Shahrani did not hear from his wife, he spent one month in Guangzhou trying to track down her whereabouts, but was forced to return home to Saudi Arabia to care for the couple’s two children. He recently told RFA’s Uyghur Service that he learned Allahberdi is being held in one of a network of political “re-education camps,” where authorities in the XUAR are believed to have detained some 1.1 million Uyghurs accused of harboring “strong religious” or “politically incorrect” views since April 2017. Allahberdi’s mother, Ayshem Mijit, 60, who also lives in Saudi Arabia, told RFA that her daughter is just the latest of her family members to disappear in the XUAR. Also missing, she said, are her 34-year-old son, Abdurahman Allahberdi; 31-year-old son, Abdurehim Allahberdi; 62-year-old husband, Allahberdi Ibrahim; and 84-year-old father, Mijit Yusup.
Shahrani: My wife Amina is innocent—she would never have committed any crime. Arbitrarily detaining a mother, “disappearing” her, and separating her from her young children, on the other hand, is a serious crime. For the sake of my two young children, who were born on Saudi soil, the Saudi government should push for my wife’s release. I have no other options left but to call on the free world to help my innocent wife, as well as millions of innocent Uyghur people who are suffering under the persecution of the Chinese government.
I am extremely worried about my wife, and I can’t bear to see my children suffer because they miss their mother and are so desperate to see her. Every time the phone rings, my four-year-old boy Abdul Aziz and my nine-year-old daughter Aisha ask if the call is from their mother. Seeing the sadness in their eyes after they realize that the call wasn’t from her, I don’t know what to do. This happens several times, every day, and it hurts my heart to see my children cry for their mother.
Mijit: The last time I was able to contact my eldest son, Abdurahman, was two years ago. I don’t know if he is in a re-education camp, a prison, or somewhere else entirely. My daughter Amina went to the [XUAR] in May 2017, and I have learned that she was detained in a concentration camp in October. I also found out that my son Abdurahim was taken to a re-education camp in June last year. The authorities said that they would release him if his parents returned to Aksu. Because of the pressure put on us by the Chinese authorities, my husband returned to Aksu on Sept. 29, last year, but I haven’t heard from him since he left Saudi Arabia. I don’t know if he is in a re-education camp, in prison, or dead.
It breaks my heart to see my grandchildren plead for their mother. I am finding it difficult to cope with it any longer. My nine-year-old granddaughter asked me, “Is my mother living in paradise? And If I die, will I see her?” My four-year-old grandson, at such a young age, said, “Grandma, don’t cry. I will become a policeman when I grow up and I will go to Aksu to rescue my mother.”
Reported by Gulchehra Hoja for RFA’s Uyghur Service.