A Muslim minority Uyghur in northwestern China’s Xinjiang region and six of his friends have been detained for nearly 20 months over the stabbing death of a Han Chinese prostitute after expressing disgust over the mushrooming of brothels in their township, according to the man’s father.
Nurmemet Yasin, a butcher from Makit county in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region’s Kashgar prefecture, was taken into custody by local police in September 2012 and charged with murder after allegedly killing the prostitute with a knife, Yasin Namet told RFA’s Uyghur Service.
Though they were uninvolved in the incident, six of Yasin’s friends were also arrested around the same time by authorities and charged with “acts of terrorism,” Namet said, citing information he obtained from the families of the men’s cellmates.
The six were identified as Sulayman Ablimit, Hidayitullah, Abdukeyin Adil, Abdusalam Enver, Enver Ablikim, and Abdukerin Seidin.
Initially, Yasin was believed to have been convicted of murder and the six were found guilty of terrorism by the lower courts, Namet said.
The six were eventually let off the hook by a higher court, but Yasin’s status was not clear, and all remain in detention, he added.
“After [Yasin’s] arrest, the authorities held a couple of closed court hearings for him, but we do not know what was ultimately decided,” he said, adding that one had taken place in mid-April 2013 and a second in late July the same year.
Namet said that a court at the Makit county level initially convicted the six men, but their convictions were overturned by the Kashgar regional court due to a lack of evidence against them.
It was unclear if Yasin’s murder conviction—which carries the death penalty—was also overturned by the high court, but Namet said that he believes his son is still alive in detention.
“The government, which typically executes people two to three months [after they are convicted], has continued to detain him and this also puzzles us,” he said, adding that he had never received any official court documentation related to his son’s trials.
No family members have been allowed to meet with any of the seven men and they have been denied the right to hire lawyers to represent them, Namet said.
“Sometimes I think that the government might want to treat him lighter,” he said.
“Other times I think they are keeping him there to take revenge on him or torture him.”
Namet said that before the incident took place, Yasin would often complain about prostitutes soliciting people in the streets on his way to the butcher shop near the 10 or so brothels that had sprung up in the area beginning in 2009.
“He said it made it impossible to walk with family members on the streets and that it was embarrassing, but the government would not do anything about it,” Namet said, despite frequent complaints from area Uyghurs who said that the brothels were an affront to their religion and culture.
He said that according to other shop owners in town, on Sept. 7, 2012, Yasin had been walking to work when a group of “half-naked” Han Chinese prostitutes blocked his way in the street, teasing him and trying to drag him inside their brothel.
“My son went with them to the back room and stabbed one of the prostitutes. Then the owner came out and rushed at him, so he stabbed him as well,” he said.
“The prostitute died on the spot, but the owner was taken to the hospital.”
Namet said that Yasin came home at 10:00 p.m. that evening without his motorcycle and “looking pale.”
“He went straight to his bedroom and we did not ask him what had happened,” he said.
“One hour later, the police came and took him away.”
Yasin, who has two children and operated a successful business, had before that never committed a crime in his entire life and was terrified after the incident, Namet said.
“I was so remorseful … I do not know if my son did this in order to protect the community’s interests, because he was hurt when he was grabbed by his arms and dragged inside, or simply because he was embarrassed.”
In addition to the arrests of Yasin and his six friends, authorities also brought nearly 100 people in for questioning, Namet said, adding that all of them had later been released because they had no connection with the incident or after being given a warning and paying a fine.
Clash of cultures
Tursun Ablet, a Uyghur from the Makit county petitions office, said that before the incident, his department had received “around 20 complaints” about the brothels and “half-naked people wandering the streets” saying they were against local customs and religious values.
“We reported these complaints to the relevant offices of the county and they said they would investigate it, but I do not know if they did or not,” he said.
He said that the petitions office had no power to enforce the law and could only inform higher-level government offices about local grievances.
“I think, because the leaders of the county are all Han Chinese, they did not realize that these are really serious problems and made the people so angry,” he said.
“They do not understand our traditions. Sometimes, they treat petitioners as if they were simply troublemakers, so because we reported on the brothel issue they became angry with us.”
Reweydulla Qasim, a local shopkeeper, told RFA that all of the brothels had closed down “out of fear” in the aftermath of the incident.
But he said that she believes Yasin had acted out of frustration because authorities had refused to address the issue which had plagued the community.
“I used to see quarrels in the street every other day because I close my shop so late,” he said.
“Sometimes the prostitutes would call people from inside and sometimes they would drag people in from the streets. Most of the time, out-of-towners would just follow them out of fear.”
Qasim said that prostitutes would try to lure customers with promises of providing their services for only 20-30 yuan (U.S. $3-5), but would end up charging them anything from 200-2,000 yuan (U.S. $32-320), based on how much they thought they could cheat them.
“I was told the brothel owners even kept weapons to threaten people,” he said.
On the rare occasions that police officers were sent to investigate, Qasim said she would see them “cracking jokes with the owners” and doing nothing about the problem.
“The police chief and the brothel owners were all Han Chinese—they were friends—so no one would investigate the issue thoroughly,” she said. “I believe that Nurmemet Yasin did this because of that.”
“If the government had closed those places this might not have happened. They prohibit [Muslim worship], beards, and headscarves, but they did not stop half-naked women [from walking in the streets]. When the government didn’t do anything about it, Nurmemet Yasin did this to teach them a lesson.”
China has intensified a sweeping security crackdown in Xinjiang, where according to official figures about 100 people, mostly Uyghurs, are believed to have been killed over the past year for alleged links to terrorism and separatism.
Many Uyghurs complain that they are subject to political, cultural, and religious repression for opposing Chinese rule in the resource-rich region.
Reported by Shohret Hoshur for RFA’s Uyghur Service. Translated by Mamatjan Juma and Shohret Hoshur. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.