Authorities in northwest China’s Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR) have sentenced two young Uyghur brothers to five-year prison terms for “viewing illegal videos,” according to a local official.
Abdulla Abdurehim, aged 17 at the time, was detained on March 16, 2017 from a classroom at the Urumqi Vocational High School in the XUAR capital Urumqi, a source with knowledge of the situation recently told RFA’s Uyghur Service, speaking on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisal.
His brother Abdurekim, then 16 years old, was taken into custody a day later from a restaurant in his home township of Imamlirim, in Aksu (in Chinese, Akesu) prefecture’s Uchturpan (Wushi) county, where he was completing an internship through the vocational school for his culinary arts education, the source said.
The brothers were scheduled to graduate at the time of their detention, according to the source, who said that Abdukerim was initially taken to an internment camp in Uchturpan, which is part of a vast network of detention centers in the XUAR, where authorities are believed to have held up to 1.8 million Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities since April 2017. He was later moved to a facility in Urumqi.
Abdulla’s whereabouts remain unknown, the source said.
Abdukerim and Abdulla, whose parents had divorced when they were small children, had previously only received an elementary school education in Uchturpan because their father—who they lived with—became paralyzed when they were 13 and 14 years old, forcing them to take jobs at a restaurant to support their family.
The source said that one of their former elementary school teachers later paid out of their own pocket to send the brothers to the Urumqi Vocational High School.
RFA spoke with a Han Chinese member of the administrative staff at the vocational school who said that she was unable to confirm whether the two young men were enrolled there because “we have more than 3,000 people here.”
RFA also spoke with a Han Chinese member of the school’s security staff who, when asked about Abdulla and Abdurekim said, “we don’t have anyone by those names here.”
Asked whether the brothers are among students from the school who have been detained, he did not respond.
However, a Uyghur security officer in Imamlirim confirmed to RFA over the phone that the two boys had been “taken away.”
“One of them [Abdulla] was studying in a classroom [in Urumqi],” said the officer, who declined to provide his name. “The other one [Abdukerim] was working as a cook in Imamlirim, doing an internship—they took him away from the place where he was completing his internship.”
The officer said that Abdulla had been “studying accounting” in Urumqi and confirmed that the brothers were taken away in March 2017 within a day of each other.
“I don’t know much about their situation now—I heard that they got five years, that’s it,” he said.
The security officer said Abdulla had been taken directly from his school and that Abdurekim was brought to “a place in the village brigade here in Imamlirim—he stayed there for five or six days and then they took him to Urumqi.”
He said he was contacted by a lawyer from Urumqi in late 2019 who informed him that the brothers were been sentenced to five years in prison.
“They told me not to contact them about it,” he said.
“I heard they were sentenced to five years, but I don’t know for what reason or where they are.”
The officer confirmed that Abdurekim and Abdulla had been forced to take work at a restaurant in their early teens because of their father’s paralysis.
“[Some sort of “crime”] happened there,” he said, adding, “I guess I don’t really know.”
When asked if they had “made some sort of mistake at that age that led to their later detention,” the officer said that they had.
RFA also spoke with a Uyghur official from Uchturpan who said he knew the brothers and that they had been sentenced for “viewing illegal content.”
“They watched a [sensitive] video on their phone with their friends when they were working at a restaurant,” the official said.
“Later, someone in detention stated that Abdukerim Abdurehim was also there watching the video. That’s why they were arrested.”
While it has been nearly a year since they were sentenced, no one—including the boys’ father and extended family, as well as local cadres in Imamlirim—has been able to obtain information about where they are serving their prison terms.
Sources have said that their mother, who works in public sanitation in Urumqi, has been unable to use social media effectively to find information about her sons’ cases. Their father in Uchturpan has been unable to do anything about their situation beyond speaking with local cadres.
Sources also indicate that a number of the brothers’ classmates have been detained and sentenced, although for what and for how long is unclear.
RFA was unable to learn any information about the elementary school teacher from Imamlirim who sent the brothers to school in Urumqi.
Reported by Shohret Hoshur for RFA’s Uyghur Service. Translated by Elise Anderson. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.