Authorities in northwestern China’s Xinjiang region detained five web administrators and writers for two months before the Muslim holy month of Ramadan to keep them from criticizing Chinese regulations that restrain Uyghurs’ activities during this time, sources inside the region said.
Just before Ramadan, when Muslim Uyghurs fast during daylight hours for 30 days, news appeared on social media and on Uyghur-language websites that police had apprehended several website owners and managers in the region.
Through telephone interviews, RFA’s Uyghur Service was able to confirm that at least five Uyghurs were held between March and May—Tursunjan Memet, Omerjan Hesen, Ababekri Muhtar, Akbarjan Eset, and an online writer whose name could not be confirmed.
Misranim and Baghdax are two of the most popular Uyghur language websites established by intellectuals in Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region.
Tursunjan Memet, one of the web administrators of the website Misranim, was detained on March 29 at his house in Korla (in Chinese, Kuerle), capital city of the Bayin’gholin Mongol Autonomous Prefecture.
A week after Tursunjan Memet was apprehended, authorities detained Ababekri Muhtar, Misranim’s founder, in the regional capital Urumqi.
Next, Akbarjan Eset, founder of the Baghdax website was detained at his home in Komul (in Chinese, Hami), the most eastern prefecture that borders China’s inner provinces and has still not reappeared.
On May 31, Aksu (Akesu) prefecture’s Commission for Discipline Inspection announced on its website that Omerjan Hesen, an active web writer and government official in Aksu, had been expelled from the Communist Party and was under investigation.
Authorities in Urumqi also took into custody another Uyghur web writer who works in the field of education but whose name could not be confirmed.
Six plainclothes officers from the public security bureau in Aksu arrived in two cars at Tursunjan Memet’s home in Shangho village of Shangho township in Korla on the morning of March 29, and informed him that they were temporarily detaining him, said Memet Qari, Tursunjan Memet’s 59-year-old father.
They thoroughly searched Memet’s room and checked all his books, taking some of them along with a desktop computer, Qari, who is a farmer, said.
“My wife and I asked them why they were detaining our son, but they only informed us that there appeared to be some ‘problem’ with the Misranim website,” he said.
Police warned the couple not to say anything about Tursunjan Memet’s detention, even to their close relatives, and declined any requests for interviews from local journalists, he said.
Tursunjan’s mother, who suffers from heart disease and diabetes, fell ill after authorities apprehended her son, and had to be hospitalized, Memet Qari said.
Qari inquired everywhere about possible information as to his son’s whereabouts, but he could not find him in Korla.
Later, he became aware that policemen took Tursunjan first to Aksu, and then transferred him to the Urumqi railway detention center, he said.
Father hires lawyer
On May 18, Memet Qari went to Urumqi and contacted a lawyer named Abureshit Mejit, who said he knew of Memet through his writings. Qari paid the attorney a 15,000 yuan (U.S. $2,300) fee to help free his son, he said.
The next day, when Memet Qari and Mejit went to the detention center, authorities denied the father entry but let in Mejit. Police did not allow him to meet with Memet though, Qari said.
“Lawyer Abdureshit told me that my son had been accused of the crime of ‘instigating ethnic-hatred’ and ‘separatism,’ he said.
When RFA contacted Abdureshit Mejit to inquire about Memet’s detention, he said he could not talk about the case.
Police have transferred Memet back to Aksu again and are detaining him at the prefecture’s central detention center, Qari said.
The deputy director of Aksu prefecture’s security bureau, who gave his name as Tuyghun, called Memet Qari about three weeks ago to inform him that his son had been moved, and that his family needed to provide clothing, food and money for him, he said.
In late May, Memet Qari went to Aksu and met with Tuyghun, who read him Memet’s official letter of arrest.
It said: “Tursunjan Memet, 25, from Korla city, Shangho township, was officially arrested and accused of the crimes of instigating ethnic hatred and separatism. He uses the Misranim website as his platform to publish illegal writings.”
Qari said he went to the facility where a police officer named Muhtar would not let him see Tursunjan Memet until his trial takes place.
“But we can send money, daily necessities and letters to our son while he’s in detention there,” Qari said.
When RFA contacted officer Muhtar at Aksu prefecture’s central detention center, he declined to say anything about Memet.
Writer and social activist
Tursunjan Memet’s case is connected to that of Omerjan Hesen, a writer who uses the pen name Bozqir and works as a vice director of the Urban Greenery Office in Aksu prefecture’s forestry bureau, Qari said.
Omerjan Hesen used to write articles for the Misranim website.
According to information published widely on Uyghur websites in Xinjiang, Omerjan Hesen is a well-known writer and social activist in the Uyghur community in Xinjiang. He previously was a journalist, writer and translator at the Aksu TV and radio station, the Aksu prefecture government, and Xinjiang Peoples Publishing House.
At the end of May, Aksu prefecture’s Commission for Discipline Inspection announced that Hesen had been expelled from the Communist Party and removed from his position at the forestry bureau for “breaking party discipline.”
The commission accused him of writing essays attacking the party and government’s ethnic or religious policies in Xinjiang, distorting the history of Xinjiang, instigating ethnic hatred, and opposing China’s unity or territorial integrity.
Ababekri Muhtar, the 29-year-old founder of Misranim and a handicapped social activist, is Tursunjan Memet’s best friend, Memet Qari said.
A week after Tursunjan was detained, Ababekri Muhtar contacted Memet Qari to inform him that he had not been in contact with Tursunjan for a week.
Memet Qari, who told Ababekri about Tursunjan’s detention during his visit, said Ababekri Muhtar himself disappeared a week later around the beginning of April.
Although accounts of Ababekri’s detention have appeared on social media in the region, China’s official media have not published any reports so far.
On Sunday, RFA was informed that Ababekri released on June 10 and spotted in Urumqi.
“Yes, he was released on last Friday and reunited with his family,” said one of Ababekri’s relatives in Istanbul, Turkey who confirmed the news on condition of anonymity.
Ababekri Muhtar had met with former U.S. Ambassador to China Gary Locke and was invited to visit the United States in the spring of 2015 as part of the Chinese private web-founders team that is supported by the American embassy in Beijing.
Reports about Muhtar’s trip appeared on Misranim, and Muhtar himself also published a series of essays about his travels.
Akbarjan Eset was detained and had to shut the Baghdax website down after a series of riots over ethnic tension that broke out in Urumqi on July 5, 2009, said Imam’eli Hesen, a Uyghur youth who knows Akbarjan and is studying in Turkey.
Abduweli Ayup, a western-educated linguist who operates Uyghur-language schools in Kashgar (Kashi), said Akbarjan restarted Baghdax after he was released and was involved in Ayup’s Movement for Mother Language Based Education, which promotes the learning of the Uyghur language, from 2011 to 2013.
In May, news of his detention appeared on social media sites, but authorities released no official information.
One of the former administrators of the Baghdax website told RFA last Wednesday that Akbarjan had left for a business trip more than a month ago.
The administrator, who requested anonymity, said Akbarjan was still missing.
“I don’t know when he will come back,” he said. “Nobody knows where he went or when he will return.”
Little is known about the fifth detained Uyghur who works in the field of education, except that he is being held with Tursunjan Memet and Omerjan Hesen at the Aksu prefecture central detention center, Memet Qari said.
Reported by Eset Sulaiman for RFA’s Uyghur Service. Translated by Eset Sulaiman.Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.