Authorities in northwest China’s Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR) have arrested a successful Uyghur property developer, according to a relative.
Ilyas Memet, a 48-year-old father of five, was arrested at his office in Ili Kazakh (in Chinese, Yili Hasake) Autonomous Prefecture’s Ghulja (Yining) city in March 2018, the relative recently told RFA’s Uyghur Service, speaking on condition of anonymity.
“He was arrested quite some time ago,” he said, adding that it was unclear why authorities had targeted him or whether he had been tried.
March 2018 marked Memet’s second arrest, following one in May 2017 that had seen him detained for “100 days in the Gucheng Detention Center,” the relative said, referring to Changji Hui (Changji Hui) Autonomous Prefecture's Guchung (Gucheng) county.
The relative confirmed an earlier report by an acquaintance of Memet’s last year, who told RFA at the time that “Ilyas Hajim, the owner of Subhi Property Development, Ltd., is in prison,” using an honorific to signify that Memet had made the holy Muslim pilgrimage to Mecca.
The acquaintance said that he had been in Ghulja on business in 2017 when authorities first arrested Memet.
“When I was in Ghulja, they took him inside, but then they later released him because he was ill and he received medical treatment at a hospital in Urumqi,” said the fellow businessman, who also declined to be named.
“He was released after three months in detention, but he was later re-arrested,” he added, referring to the March 2018 arrest.
Memet’s firm Subhi Property Development, Ltd. has built multiple hotels, restaurants, residential buildings and shopping centers in the XUAR capital Urumqi, Bayin’gholin Mongol (Bayinguoleng Menggu) Autonomous Prefecture’s Korla (Kuerle) city, Kashgar (in Chinese, Kashi) prefecture’s Yarkand (Shache) county, and Ghulja.
When asked by RFA in a recent phone call when Memet had been arrested, an officer at the Ghulja City Police Department refused to comment.
“We cannot disclose such information,” the officer said, adding that his department only handles inquiries related to crime reports.
While the reason for Memet’s arrest has not been publicly disclosed, sources close to his family suggested that it may have been because he had visited several countries blacklisted by authorities for travel by Uyghurs, due to the perceived threat of religious extremism, including Turkey.
Beginning in April 2017, authorities have detained an estimated 1.5 million Uyghurs and other Muslim ethnic minorities accused of harboring “strong religious views” and “politically incorrect” ideas in a network of political “re-education camps” throughout the XUAR.
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.
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.