HONG KONG—Authorities in China’s Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR) have detained an ethnic Uyghur man for speaking to foreign media after international attention helped his daughter avoid a forced abortion under China’s population control policy.
Tursunjan Hesen, 67, was detained July 2, according to Juret, chief in Nogaytu village, Dadamtu town, in Ghulja city.
“I don’t know why he was arrested or where he is. You can ask higher officials more about the case,” Juret said in an interview.
Police precincts in the area declined to comment on the case.
But a neighbor said he was being held in Yengihayat (New Life) jail in Ghulja. The neighbor, who asked not to be identified, said he had visited last week.
“The family received a notice stating that Tursunjan Hesen was arrested, because he was accused of leaking state secrets and endangering state security,” the neighbor said.
RFA’s Uyghur service learned of his detention in July, around the time of deadly ethnic clashes between majority Han Chinese and minority Uyghurs, first in southern Guangdong province and then in the XUAR capital, Urumqi.
No confirmation was available then, as Chinese authorities have imposed a telephone and Internet blackout over the whole region in an apparent bid to avoid further ethnic violence.
Ethnic tensions between indigenous Uyghurs, who are mostly Muslim, and Han Chinese settlers have simmered for years—and erupted in rioting in July that left some 200 people dead, according to the government’s tally.
Clashes first erupted between Han Chinese and ethnic Uyghurs on July 5.
Twelve people have since been sentenced to death in connection with the violence, which was the worst the country has experienced in decades.
Contacted by telephone through an intermediary in eastern China, one of Tursunjan Hesen’s sons said his father couldn’t come to the phone because “my father in jail.”
Told the caller was a journalist, the son replied, “Sorry, I cannot answer your question, we are prohibited from speaking to reporters … We are prohibited from receiving foreign calls.”
International media attention and high-level U.S. intervention prompted Chinese authorities to release Tursunjan Hesen’s daughter, Arzigul Tursun, from the hospital where she was scheduled to undergo a second-term abortion against her will last year.
Tursunjan Hesen’s case prompted calls to the Chinese authorities from two members of the U.S. Congress and from the U.S. ambassador in Beijing for a planned abortion of her pregnancy to be scrapped.
China's one-child-per-family policy applies mainly to majority Han Chinese and allows ethnic minorities, including Uyghurs, to have additional children, with peasants permitted to have three children and city-dwellers two.
But while Tursun is a peasant, her husband is from the city of Gulja [in Chinese, Yining], so their status is unclear.
In a phone interview in May, before his detention, Tursunjan Hesen said neighbors called his grandson “the American baby” because U.S. intervention allowed him to be born.
“He is growing up healthy and nice, and our neighbors call him the ‘American boy,” Tursunjan Hesen said.
“Actually at least 3,000 'American' boys and girls were born in Xinjiang during those months,” he said.
“Police interrogated me at least 20 times over the last six months—one time they blamed me, saying I was responsible for at least 3,000 new babies born outside the government’s quota—to families who didn’t obey the Chinese abortion orders.”
“They asked me repeatedly who gave information about Arzigul to the foreign media. I told them that I had no idea, I don’t have access to the Internet and nobody knows how to access the Internet in my family.”
In March 2009, officials clashed with a group of women over land rights in Aradamtu, with seven of the women injured and hospitalized.
Police also interrogated Tursunjan Hesen about that clash, he said at the time.
The official Web site China Xinjiang Web reports that in Kashgar, Hotan, and Kizilsu [in Chinese, Kezilesu], areas populated almost entirely by Uyghurs, women over 49 with only one child are entitled to a one-time payment of 3,000 yuan (U.S. $440), with the couple receiving 600 yuan (U.S. $88) yearly afterward.
China's official Tianshan Net reported that population control policies in Xinjiang have prevented the births of some 3.7 million people over the last 30 years.
The one-child policy is enforced more strictly in cities, but penalties for exceeding a family's quota can be severe, including job losses, demotions, or expulsion from the Party, experts say.
Original reporting in Uyghur by Shohret Hoshur. Uyghur service director: Dolkun Kamberi.Written and produced in English by Sarah Jackson-Han.