A Uyghur man detained last year in northwestern China’s Xinjiang region for watching a banned Islamic video on his cell phone has died in police custody, raising suspicions of torture at the hands of authorities, sources in the region and in exile say.
Memet Ibrahm, who worked as a veterinarian and was aged about 40, was taken into custody on June 25, 2015 in Aksu (in Chinese, Akesu) prefecture, the Sweden-based East Turkestan Information Center said in a report released on May 12.
He was moved to a detention center in Aksu’s Kuchar (Kuche) county in September, and was reported by authorities to have died of a heart attack at the end of the year, according to the report.
Speaking to RFA’s Uyghur Service, Tohti Rozi—village chief for Ibrahim’s native Qitat village in the county’s Alaqagha township—said that county authorities had informed him of Ibrahim’s death, telling him to order Ibrahim’s family members not to conduct a funeral for him.
“The police said that Memet Ibrahim had died of a heart attack, but no one in this county believes such simple explanations,” Rozi said. “The police have given this explanation [for unexplained deaths] many times in recent years.”
“Probably, the authorities refused to allow the family to perform a funeral ceremony so that they could keep Ibrahim’s body away as much as possible from public view,” he said.
'I didn't ask'
Ekber Imin, chief of the veterinary hospital in Kanas village, where Ibrahim worked, told RFA that he knew that his colleague had been detained for watching “illegal religious materials.”
“The police who handled his case came to my office to ask me what reading materials he was usually interested in,” he said.
Ibrahim’s wife and mother had also visited him at his work place and said that Ibrahim had died under torture, Imin said.
“I didn’t ask how he had been tortured, or how they came to know about it, because nothing I could learn about this would help them deal with what they were facing,” he said.
Also speaking to RFA, Kanas village security chief Eziz Qasim said that he had been assigned to watch Ibrahim’s family home for 15 days after his body was returned.
“We didn’t allow anyone except for direct family members to visit the house,” Qasim said.
“Luckily we didn’t have to face any strong resistance to this, because of tightened security measures in our township.”
Though Ibrahim’s brother-in-law and the imam at his mosque were allowed to view Ibrahim’s body following its return one week after his death, “neither of them said anything about the body showing signs of torture,” he said.
China has vowed to crack down on what it calls religious extremism in Xinjiang, and regularly conducts “strike hard” campaigns 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.
But experts outside China say Beijing has exaggerated the threat from Uyghur "separatists" and that domestic policies are responsible for an upsurge in violence there that has left hundreds dead since 2012.
Reported and translated by Shohret Hoshur for RFA’s Uyghur Service. Written in English by Richard Finney.