Uyghur in ‘critical condition’ after jailed on return to Xinjiang

Mexmutjan Memet is suffering from liver disease his wife attributes to prison conditions.

Mexmutjan Memet was arrested in China’s Xinjiang region in 2017 and subsequently sentenced. Kifaye Éhsan

A Uyghur man serving a 20-year sentence in northwest China’s Xinjiang region is in critical condition due to poor conditions at his prison, according to his wife, who has called for pressure on Chinese authorities to release him and reunite him with his family in Turkey.

Mexmutjan Memet’s story is all too common for Uyghurs who have moved abroad only to be arrested on their return to China for actions deemed crimes by the state, including exercising their right under the country’s constitution to uphold their cultural and religious traditions.

Memet, a 48-year-old former staffer at the agricultural bureau in Xinjiang’s Korla (in Chinese, Kuerle) city who went on to open a business shipping pears, moved to Turkey with his family in 2015 to provide his children with better educational opportunities.

In 2016, he accompanied his 78-year-old mother Xelchem Pazil back to Korla after she visited his family in Turkey following an Islamic pilgrimage to Saudi Arabia’s holy city of Mecca, only to have his passport confiscated by authorities on his arrival, his wife Kifaye Éhsan told RFA Uyghur.

The following year, he was arrested and sentenced to 20 years in Korla Prison for reasons that included violating China’s one-child policy, providing religious education to his children and traveling to Turkey.

An RFA investigation found that at least seven members of Memet’s family, including his brothers and mother, were sentenced to prison after his return, although his mother was released this year for treatment after becoming seriously ill in a prison in Sanji (Changji) city, near the regional capital Urumqi.

Éhsan recently contacted RFA Uyghur expressing concern for her husband’s well-being after she learned that he had become severely ill in prison from liver disease and related complications and is “in need of urgent medical attention.”

“The police said … that his condition is severe and requires medical attention,” she said. “They also said that if anything goes wrong with him, they won’t be responsible.”

RFA contacted the Korla City Prison Administration Office and spoke with an official who confirmed the existence of “an inmate who has liver disease and serious complications,” but said he did not have any specific information about the individual’s identity or the exact diagnosis.

“I became aware of the severity of his illness in the course of my work,” said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the matter with the media. “As of now, the individual is still in prison.”

The official said that staff at the administration office are “prohibited from becoming involved in cases that fall under the jurisdiction of other parties,” and could not provide further details.

Healthy prior to imprisonment

Éhsan, like many other Uyghurs living abroad, has been unable to establish direct contact with her relatives since 2017, when authorities in Xinjiang began detaining Uyghurs and other Turkic minorities in a vast network of “re-education camps” and implemented strict controls on the flow of information in and out of the region.

She said she now lives in constant fear that she will receive notice that Memet’s health has declined further, or worse.

“All of us living abroad are shattered – our suffering is indescribable,” she said. “As for my children, they too have been deeply affected by this news, both emotionally and psychologically. As a mother, I can sense it, but words cannot fully convey it.”

Éhsan said that prior to his arrest, Memet was “in good health” and running his pear packaging business, which was shut down by authorities following his detention. She said that after the business was closed, the families of Memet’s six siblings in Korla and his family in Turkey had lost their primary source of income.

RFA also contacted an employee at the Korla Prison Hospital who confirmed that Memet is suffering from several ailments – including liver disease, heart problems and high blood pressure – although he is currently “in stable condition” after “receiving treatment at the hospital for the past two months.”

But he said that Memet’s condition “was extremely critical” on his arrival at the prison, and that he “required an extensive period of care.” The employee, who also declined to be named, said that the hospital has been monitoring Memet’s condition “daily.”

“He was diagnosed with liver disease and high blood pressure, and he is currently on medication for his heart and blood pressure,” he said. “It seems that he had preexisting liver issues, which led to complications this time. He has experienced a significant decline in weight and physical stature.”

Call for pressure on China

Éhsan, however, dismissed the hospital employee’s assessment that her husband had been in poor health prior to his incarceration.

“When my husband returned to our homeland, he was in good health and had a normal weight,” she said. “They told us that [among other conditions,] he had Hepatitis B. It is likely due to the poor conditions of the prison, as it is a contagious disease.”

She called on international NGOs to exert pressure on the Chinese government to facilitate his access to medical treatment outside the prison, as well as his immediate release.

“I don't hold any expectations from the Chinese government [that they will free him],” she said. “My only hope is that human rights organizations or other entities can assist in securing my husband's release, provide him with the necessary treatment, and reunite him with our family.”

Translated by RFA Uyghur. Edited by Joshua Lipes and Malcolm Foster.

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