A young ethnic Uyghur woman detained by Chinese police in February while attempting to flee the country to join her husband in Turkey has died in police custody in her native Xinjiang, according to sources in the region and in exile.
Tursungul, 32 and described as healthy before she was taken into custody, died shortly after being taken to the Shaptol Township police station in Kashgar (in Chinese, Kashi) prefecture’s Peyziwat (Jiashi) county, a Uyghur living in Turkey told RFA’s Uyghur Service, citing sources in Xinjiang.
“She died within a week and was buried somewhere by the police,” said the man, who had successfully escaped to Turkey with Tursungul’s husband some time before.
“Authorities told her relatives that she had died suddenly due to heart failure,” he said.
Hoping to be reunited with her husband, who had gone ahead of her to Turkey, Tursungul had traveled to southern China with her 15-year-old daughter and infant son, RFA’s source said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
“They hid in one place after another, watching for an opportunity to cross the border,” he said.
'She died so young'
Tursungul was detained by police in February in an area bordering southern China’s Guangdong province, the source said, adding that after being held and questioned for about a month, she was taken to her hometown of Shaptol by officers from the Peyziwat County Police Bureau.
“She died so young,” the source said, adding that neither he nor her husband have received word about the fate of their children from their sources in Xinjiang.
“We don’t know if they are alive or not,” he said.
The couple’s 16-year-old son was detained by police in Shaptol in January and is also missing, he said.
Though news of Tursungul’s death was first received in March, reporting on the case was briefly delayed owing to concerns for the safety of sources in her native county.
Reached for comment, officers of the Shaptol Township Police Station and other local authorities refused to speak about the case, with one township official telling RFA, “This is not my responsibility. Don’t ask me this kind of question.”
Uyghur exiles and rights groups have frequently criticized Chinese authorities’ heavy-handed rule inXinjiang—including police raids on Uyghur households, restrictions on Islamic practices, and curbs on the culture and language of the Uyghur people—which they say has forced hundreds to flee abroad, often through Southeast Asia.
Chinese authorities have meanwhile blamed an upsurge of violence in Xinjiang since 2012 on terrorists and Islamist insurgents seeking to establish an independent state.
Reported and translated by Eset Sulaiman for RFA’s Uyghur Service. Written in English by Richard Finney.