A 75-year-old Uyghur retiree from a township financial management office in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR) has ‘graduated’ after 13 months in an internment camp, local police and his wife told RFA’s Uyghur Service on Friday.
Metrozi Jumaniyaz left the camp in Karakash (in Chinese, Moyu) county in Hotan (Hetian) prefecture in the southern part of the XUAR two weeks ago, the first in his township to “graduate” from the Uyghur mass incarceration program China describes as a vocational “boarding schools,” two local police officers told RFA.
“Metrozi Jumaniyaz,” said a township office when asked about reports that a man had been released in mid-July.
“I don’t know which camp he was from. I can’t give you a wrong answer. (I have) no idea why he was detained,” said the official. RFA has withheld the name of the township to protect the anonymity of the officer.
Asked if Jumaniyaz was the first camp inmate to be released in that township, a second police official, from Karakash county, said “That is right!”
Beijing initially denied the existence of internment camps, but as international criticism mounted, it changed tack earlier this year and started describing the facilities as “boarding schools” that provide vocational training for Uyghurs, discourage radicalization, and help protect the country from terrorism.
Reporting by RFA and other media outlets, however, showed that those in the camps are detained against their will without explanation and subjected to political indoctrination. They routinely face rough treatment at the hands of their overseers, and endure poor diets and unhygienic conditions in the often overcrowded facilities.
RFA has also discovered repeatedly that many of the Uyghurs forced to go through vocational training were already highly educated, accomplished professionals in various fields or already retired after long careers in education or government.
In a telephone interview with RFA, Jumaniyaz’s 60-year-old wife confirmed his occupation, the duration of his term in the camp and his recent release.
“My husband received his diploma and came out of the camp. He is now at the hospital.”
“He stayed in the camp for one year and one month,” she said.
“He was released. He had a broken hip bone and could neither sit nor stand. Plus, he studied well and passed the tests in Chinese,” said the wife, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the couple’s situation.
“He also became very sick in the camp. So we took him to the hospital,” she added.
In October 2017, Officials from two villages in Karakash county told RFA’s Uyghur Service that they had been given a target quota for sending residents to re-education camps.
A police officer in one of the villages said he had been informed during an “online conference” in mid-June that his department was to detain 40 percent of the local population for exhibiting signs of “religious extremism.”
The confirmation of the ailing retired cadre’s release came several days after China presented the two top ethnic Uyghur officials in the XUAR in Beijing to deliver a surprising claim that the vast majority of Uyghurs had completed training in re-education camps and rejoined their families.
Erkin Tuniyaz, the vice chairman of the XUAR government, told a news conference that “over 90 percent of the students have returned to society and returned to their families and are living happily.”
The claims, which were presented without evidence, were met with dismissal and derision by leading human rights experts and Uyghur diaspora groups, who described the statements as the latest in a long history of Chinese disinformation about Xinjiang.
RFA reporters have been unable to confirm more than a handful of releases across the vast XUAR, home to about 11 million Uyghurs.
The claims made in Beijing on July 27 prompted Uyghurs living in exile with relatives incarcerated in the XUAR to launch a Twitter campaign with the hashtag #prove90% to challenge China to prove it is releasing the inmates.
China has incarcerated up to 1.5 million Uyghurs and other Muslim ethnic minorities accused of harboring “strong religious views” and “politically incorrect” ideas since April 2017.
Reported by Shohret Hoshur for RFA’s Uyghur Service. Translated by Alim Seytoff. Written in English by Paul Eckert.