A Uyghur businessman has died after suffering a heart attack while detained in a political “re-education camp” in northwest China’s Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, according to sources.
Yaqup Rozi, believed to be in his mid-40s, died “during the last week of March” this year, a source with knowledge of the situation recently told RFA’s Uyghur Service, speaking on condition of anonymity.
Rozi, who regularly conducted business in neighboring Kyrgyzstan, traveled to his home in Suntagh township’s Shoroq village, outside of Atush (in Chinese, Atushi) city in the XUAR’s Kizilsu Kirghiz (Kezileisu Keerkezi) Autonomous Prefecture, in early 2017 at the behest of local authorities, the source said, adding that his passport had been confiscated on his return.
A month later, Rozi was summoned to the local police station for interrogation, but then released, and a month after that, police raided his home in the middle of the night, taking him away with a black hood over his head, according to the source.
His family later learned that he was detained in the XUAR’s network of political “re-education camps,” where up to 1.5 million Uyghurs and other Muslim ethnic minorities accused of harboring “strong religious views” and “politically incorrect” ideas have been held since April 2017.
The source said that authorities did not provide a reason for Rozi’s detention, although it is believed that he was targeted for traveling abroad to a country blacklisted by authorities for travel by Uyghurs due to the perceived threat of religious extremism.
After Rozi died last month, authorities refused to release his remains to his family members, who were only allowed to observe as a state-appointed religious cleric washed his body and prepared it for burial according to Islamic tradition, the source added.
Officers at the neighboring Kattay village and Atush city police departments both told RFA they had no information to provide when asked about Rozi’s death, before hanging up.
But an officer at the Suntagh township police department confirmed that Rozi had died at a local hospital as the result of “myocardial arrest,” or a heart attack.
“According to what I know, his body was brought from the hospital … because they couldn’t save him,” the officer said, adding that Rozi had originally been brought for medical treatment from detention.
Though Beijing initially denied the existence of re-education camps, Shohrat Zakir, chairman of the XUAR, told China’s official Xinhua news agency in October 2018 that the facilities are an effective tool to protect the country from terrorism and provide vocational training for Uyghurs. Official propaganda for a time called them “boarding schools.”
China recently organized two visits to monitor re-education camps in the XUAR—one for a small group of foreign journalists, and another for diplomats from non-Western countries, including Russia, Indonesia, Kazakhstan and Thailand—during which officials dismissed claims about mistreatment and poor conditions in the facilities as “slanderous lies.”
Reporting by RFA’s Uyghur Service and other media organizations, however, has shown that those in the camps are detained against their will and subjected to political indoctrination, routinely face rough treatment at the hands of their overseers, and endure poor diets and unhygienic conditions in the often overcrowded facilities.
Adrian Zenz, a lecturer in social research methods at the Germany-based European School of Culture and Theology, earlier this month said that some 1.5 million people are or have been detained in the camps—equivalent to just under 1 in 6 members of the adult Muslim population of the XUAR—after initially putting the number at 1.1 million.
Michael Kozak, the head of the State Department's human rights and democracy bureau, in an apparent reference to the policies of Hitler's Germany and Stalin's Soviet Union, last week said people "haven’t seen things like this since the 1930s" and called the internment of more than a million Uyghurs "one of the most serious human rights violations in the world today."
In November 2018, Scott Busby, the deputy assistant secretary in the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor at the U.S. Department of State, said there are "at least 800,000 and possibly up to a couple of million" Uyghurs and others detained at re-education camps in the XUAR without charges, citing U.S. intelligence assessments.
Reported by Shohret Hoshur for RFA’s Uyghur Service. Translated by RFA’s Uyghur Service. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.