The young daughter of an ethnic Uyghur man who is languishing in a political re-education camp in northwest China’s Xinjiang region is in need of urgent medical treatment after suffering serious burns when a stove overturned at her home in Hotan (in Chinese, Hetian) prefecture, according to sources.
A public notice from the Resident’s Committee of the Qagha village government, in Guma (Pishan) county’s Kokterek township, which was only recently posted to social media, states that Esma Ahmet was injured on Feb. 18 after she was scalded by an upended pot of boiling water, causing severe burns to nearly 60 percent of her body.
Ahmet requires urgent medical treatment in the Xinjiang capital Urumqi that would cost some 300,000 yuan (U.S. $47,250), the Feb. 21 notice said, adding that her father Ahmet Abliz is being held in a re-education camp and calling on area residents to help raise funds for the family of seven.
No details were provided about Ahmet’s age—although she is believed to be eight years old—whether there were any adults present when the incident occurred, or the reason for her father’s detention.
Since April last year, Uyghurs accused of harboring “extremist” and “politically incorrect” views have been detained in re-education camps throughout Xinjiang, where members of the ethnic group have long complained of pervasive discrimination, religious repression, and cultural suppression under Chinese rule.
Sources have told RFA that Uyghur children have been left without guardians after their parents were detained in the camps, and that many are sent to overcrowded orphanages in the region where they are held in “terrible” conditions.
An officer at the Kokterek township police station confirmed the incident to RFA’s Uyghur Service during a recent telephone call, but said it was unclear whether Ahmet had since received treatment.
“She may be in the hospital,” said the officer, who spoke on condition of anonymity, adding that he was unsure of what had since happened to Ahmet because he and other policemen “don’t often stay in the office as we are mostly on patrol,” and hadn’t heard any further details about her condition.
The officer handed the phone to Tursunjan Mehmet, who he said was the policeman in charge of the Qagha village station, but Mehmet referred further questions about Ahmet’s situation to “higher level authorities,” before hanging up.
A staff member who answered the phone at the Hotan Prefectural Emergency Hotline said he was unaware of the incident and referred inquiries about Ahmet’s condition to a local surgical unit.
RFA was unable to contact the Kokterek township hospital to determine whether Ahmet had received treatment there.
Another officer who answered a follow-up call to the Kokterek township police station also confirmed Ahmet’s injury, but declined to say whether any adults were present when the incident occurred or how many members of her family are currently being held in re-education camps, saying the information is “confidential.”
“We must obey the policy of confidentiality—we can’t reveal anything which is deemed confidential,” said the officer, who also declined to provide his name.
When contacted for further details, residents of Qagha village refused to speak with RFA about the incident.
Prior reporting by RFA’s Uyghur Service found that as arrests in Xinjiang increased around the sensitive 19th Communist Party Congress in Beijing in October, the region’s re-education camps have been inundated by detainees, who are forced to endure cramped and squalid conditions in the facilities.
Chinese authorities have not publicly acknowledged the existence of re-education camps in Xinjiang, and the number of inmates kept in each facility remains a closely guarded secret, but Uyghur activists estimate that up to 1 million Uyghurs have been detained throughout the region since April 2017, and say nearly every Uyghur household has been affected by the campaign.
Since Xinjiang party chief Chen Quanguo was appointed to his post in August 2016, he has initiated unprecedented repressive measures against the Uyghur people and ideological purges against so-called “two-faced” Uyghur officials—a term applied by the government to Uyghurs who do not willingly follow directives and exhibit signs of “disloyalty.”
China regularly conducts “strike hard” campaigns in Xinjiang, 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.
While China blames some Uyghurs for "terrorist" attacks, experts outside China say Beijing has exaggerated the threat from the Uyghurs and that repressive domestic policies are responsible for an upsurge in violence there that has left hundreds dead since 2009.
Reported by Shohret Hoshur for RFA’s Uyghur Service. Translated by RFA’s Uyghur Service. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.