Updated at 02:30 p.m. EST on 2015-01-23
A Uyghur mother of a human trafficking victim was dragged through the streets by police in China’s northwestern Xinjiang region as she evaded detention and tried to seek redress over her son’s abduction, an eyewitness said Thursday.
Nurungul Tohti, 35, struggled for about two hours as police tried to bundle her in their car after she demanded to see the ruling Chinese Communist Party boss in Uchturpan county in Aksu prefecture, according to the witness identified as Memet.
“When I joined the crowd she was shouting and trying to get away from the police. Two policemen were pulling and pushing her, trying to get her into the car,” Memet said of the incident watched by about 200 people.
“Everybody in the crowd wanted to say something to the police, but nobody dared to do so because of the sensitivity of recent days,” he said, referring to efforts by Chinese authorities to round up petitioners ahead of a meeting of the National People’s Congress, China’s highest legislative body, next week in Beijing.
“The fight continued for at least two hours. Finally, the police got half of her body inside the car but her legs were outside. The car drove slowly out of town as she continued to shout and resist.”
Tohti spoke about her ordeal in a telephone interview with RFA from her detention center on Thursday, saying that the police action came after she applied to meet with the county Communist Party secretary who had issued an order to detain her for 39 days last year when she demanded action over her seven-year-old son Tayir’s abduction.
She said that in the morning on Wednesday, two police officers and three government employees took her from her sister’s house to the county office, saying she would meet with top officials. But upon reaching town, the group’s driver continued past the government office building.
“Then I tried to get out the car, but the police would not allow me to. I fought with them for hours and then they took me to a so-called ‘shelter’ which is sometimes used as detention center for petitioners,” she said.
Tohti escaped by climbing over the wall of the center’s yard, but was captured again as she reached the county office.
“They dragged me from in front of the mosque to the square. A police car was parked about 200 meters (650 feet) away. My legs were outside the car as they drove. At least 200 people were watching us,” she said.
“The police told me, ‘You are putting on a free show for a crowd that can’t do anything to help you.’ I responded, ‘Yes, I know they cannot help me, but I believe that they should know what is going on in this county.’”
‘How can I feel shame?’
Tohti said the police asked her whether she felt ashamed to be seen by the public in such a state.
“I answered, ‘As a tough police officer you feel no shame, so as a victim of your brutality how I can feel shame?’”
Tohti said that the police had left her under the watch of two officials in the detention center.
“They only were able to take me to this place by using their physical advantage. We argued in this shelter for more than two hours and finally they promised to take me to meet with top officials tomorrow morning at 8:00 a.m.,” Tohti said.
“I know that they always lie, but I have no choice but to believe them. Let’s see what happens tomorrow morning,” she said as spent the night in detention.
“What they are trying to do is break up my resistance to injustice. But I have already prepared for all possible consequences in order to protect my son.”
Tohti said her son Tayir was abducted in September 2009 by a suspected mafia gang member. The boy was released 24 hours later after she confronted his captor.
Her son eventually told her that he had been warned by his abductor on his release not to say anything about what had happened to him or his mother would be killed. Tohti believes that he was sexually abused during his captivity.
Tohti sought help from municipal officials, demanding that Tayir’s captor be charged with human trafficking and seeking compensation for her child’s ordeal. But the authorities said that they were unable to charge the suspect.
Believing that she was being discriminated against as a minority, Tohti traveled to Beijing last June to appeal to the central authorities about her son’s case.
In July she was forcibly repatriated to Uchturpan by authorities from her hometown and immediately jailed.
She spent 39 days in detention and was only released under police surveillance after her sister signed a document which said she wouldn’t travel to Beijing again to petition.
Tohti returned to the capital in December and was again brought home by authorities from Uchturpan where she has been under surveillance since the end of January.
During the month of February she was blocked three times while attempting to travel to the Beijing to petition.
She said she would continue to seek justice, including over her detention.
“The trafficker took my son from me for 24 hours, the Uchturpan authorities separated me from my son for 39 days by detaining me illegally and while I was complaining about my illegal detention, they detained me again without legal papers,” she said.
“This is obviously ethnic discrimination even though they claim they want to solve problems and protect stability."
Reported by Shohret Hoshur for RFA’s Uyghur service. Translated by Shohret Hoshur. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story gave an incorrect spelling of Nurungul Tohti's name as 'Nurgul.'