Authorities in China’s northwest Xinjiang region forced a 12-year-old ethnic Uyghur boy to undergo political reeducation and have detained him since arresting his parents, who returned home from Egypt to “register” themselves with the government nearly five months ago, according to official sources.
Thousands of Uyghurs, many of whom are students studying at Cairo’s prestigious Al-Azhar Islamic University, have voluntarily traveled to Xinjiang from Egypt since the beginning of the year when Chinese authorities detained many of their relatives and threatened them with “severe punishment” if they did not return.
In February, Memet Abla, 39, and his wife Buzorigul Rishit, 36, took their 12-year-old son Hezritieli Memet home from Egypt to Yopurgha county, in Xinjiang’s Kashgar (in Chinese, Kashi) prefecture, where they were promptly arrested by local authorities, two officials from the county’s Yekshenbe Bazaar recently told RFA’s Uyghur Service.
With his parents in detention, Memet was placed in the custody of the local government for surveillance, according to Abduqadir Abdureyim, a police officer at the Yekshenbe Bazaar station.
“There are many from our village who have returned from Egypt, but I only remember one clearly—a 12-year-old boy named Hezritieli Memet,” Abdureyim said.
“He came back with his parents in February. His father’s name is Memet Ablet. This family is from the 8th neighborhood of the No. 3 township in our village.”
According to Abdureyim, Abla used to run a business in the Xinjiang capital Urumqi, but had relocated to Egypt late last year to undergo religious education.
“They stayed there for only three months and voluntarily returned following our government’s call [for Uyghurs in Egypt] to return home and report themselves,” he said.
“I do not know where Memet Ablet and his wife are at the moment, but I know their son Hezritieli Memet had gone through political reeducation at the county Education Center. Then, he was turned over to the custody of the village authorities for detention.”
The official reason for Abla and Rishit’s arrests was not immediately clear.
Hesen Basit, party secretary of Yekshenbe Bazaar’s No. 6 township, told RFA he couldn’t confirm that Memet was being held, but said that the boy had been politically reeducated.
“If he is detained, it is probably to prevent him from talking about his overseas experiences or to find out what he saw in Egypt, in case he didn’t disclose it to the authorities,” he said.
Punished on return
Last week, an activist told RFA that more than 200 Uyghurs are being detained in Egypt for deportation to China, dozens of whom are in the custody of the country’s national intelligence service, and London-based rights group Amnesty International said the agency’s involvement was a clear indication that Beijing had ordered the roundup.
The Uyghurs, many of them religious students at Al-Azhar, have been detained since July 4, rounded up in restaurants or at their homes, with others seized at airports as they tried to flee to safer countries, sources told RFA in earlier reports.
Dozens of Uyghurs are believed to have already been deported home to China, where rights groups say they face a serious risk of arbitrary detention and torture.
Media reports have quoted officials as denying that Egyptian authorities were targeting Uyghurs and saying that those arrested were brought in for “alleged irregularities in their residency papers,” but Uyghur exile groups and students say the detentions were ordered by China on allegations that they had “joined extremist organizations.”
In March, sources told RFA that 17 Uyghurs had been blacklisted and punished after returning to Kashgar’s Yopurgha county from Egypt.
Chinese authorities detained the father and brother of one student who had yet to return to Yopurgha—22-year-old Ibrahim Memet—in February as part of a bid to force him to return, his mother said at the time.
“Police told us to convince our son to return from Egypt, but we couldn’t contact him,” she said.
“As a result, my husband [Memet Naway] was detained in early February and, 20 days later, my older son [Turghun Memet] was as well. Currently, they are undergoing political reeducation at the county Education Center.”
The ruling Chinese Communist Party blames some Uyghurs for a string of violent attacks and clashes in China in recent years, but critics say the government has exaggerated the threat from the ethnic group, and that repressive domestic policies are responsible for violence that has left hundreds dead since 2009.
China regularly conducts “strike hard” campaigns in Xinjiang, including police raids on Uyghur households, restrictions on Islamic practices, and curbs on the culture and language of the Uyghur people, including videos and other material.
Reported by Shohret Hoshur for RFA’s Uyghur Service. Translated by Alim Seytoff. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.