Adil Abduqadir, an ethnic Uyghur living in exile, left his home in Hotan (in Chinese, Hetian) prefecture, in northwest China’s Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR), for Turkey with his wife in March last year to avoid a forced abortion because she was pregnant with their fifth child, in violation of the country’s “family planning policy.” A month later, authorities in the XUAR began jailing and detaining Uyghurs accused of harboring “strong religious views” and “politically incorrect” ideas in political “re-education camps” throughout the region, where members of the ethnic group have long complained of pervasive discrimination, religious repression, and cultural suppression under Chinese rule. When Abduqadir learned of the new policy in the XUAR, he chose not to return home, where he and his wife were likely to face persecution and arrest.
In a recent interview, Abduqadir told RFA’s Uyghur Service that since he left China, his mother was handed a 10-year jail sentence, his older brother was imprisoned for five and a half years, and his four other children were sent to Hotan’s so-called Loving Heart Kindergarten for Uyghur youth whose guardians have been detained, which they are not free to leave. He has since established a campaign to free his children and those of other Uyghurs in the XUAR, noting that mass incarcerations have made the destruction of families an all too common occurrence in the region.
Abduqadir: I decided to go with my wife to Istanbul in March 2017 because in our country it is illegal to have more than two children. I already had four children [for which I had to bribe local officials] and my wife was pregnant with our fifth child. In my region it is usually extremely difficult to obtain a passport, even on some occasions after spending 100,000 yuan (U.S. $14,570). But suddenly [in 2016] the government issued a notice ordering all households to apply for passports at the cost of 200 yuan (U.S. $29), and the authorities issued them to nearly everyone—even those who had black marks against their name. During that period, I obtained a passport for my wife.
Last year, we heard that the government was going to confiscate all the passports … My wife, who was pregnant at the time, was frightened to go outside in Hoten because of the risk of being forced to have an abortion, so we went to [the XUAR capital] Urumqi, where were we had an apartment, and lived there. But we were constantly watched by the cadres from the neighborhood committee, which made us very nervous, as we knew that if they found out my wife was pregnant they would force her to have an injection that would cause her to lose the baby. When we heard that they were going to recall the passports, we made the decision to leave the country. We decided to go to Turkey for my wife to have the baby, who we would leave with relatives there before returning home.
I was married once before and [after we arrived in Turkey] my ex-wife … was given a 20-year prison sentence for having studied the Quran, although it was through a legally approved religious establishment and not under the tutelage of a prohibited underground imam. Not long after that, my elder brother was imprisoned for five and a half years. I was in contact with my mother on [the messaging app] WeChat at the time, and my mother informed me about everything that was happening.
My mother and my children were living in my apartment in Urumqi, with my children attending a nursery school nearby. We were paying all the costs. We actually had moved all of our “hukou” [residency] registrations to Urumqi—I own properties in the city and my wife and all of my children had Urumqi residency permits. My mother later told me that local officials had ordered her and my children to return to Hotan, since they are originally from there. On the day she left Urumqi, she left a voice message for me saying that my children had been forced to leave their nursery school and she was returning to Hotan with them. I still have that message on my phone.
Soon after arriving in Hotan, my mother was detained. My four children—aged three to eight—along with my sister’s child, were left on their own for 24 hours after my mother was taken into custody. I then received news that my mother had been sentenced to 10 years in prison. I didn't believe it, but later I was able to confirm that she was among 11 elderly women who were sentenced together. They were all of a similar age and had retired from working for the government. Their crime was that they had once been government employees, but took part in the Hajj [Muslim pilgrimage to Mecca]. My mother went for Hajj 16 years ago, after receiving permission from the government at that time. The 11 elderly women who were sent to prison together were also accused of harboring radical religious views because they prayed at home.
My children were taken to the so-called Loving Heart Kindergarten. I have two photos of my children: one was taken before they were brought to the orphanage, and the other was taken after they were placed there. You can see for yourself the difference. [The photos] were taken only 15 days apart … [but in the second photo] their faces are covered with a skin rash. My wife became severely depressed after seeing that photo. She cried all night long and then was no longer the same person. It has been over a year that she is suffering from depression and anxiety. And apart from my family matters, I had to forfeit a 50 million yuan (U.S. $7.3 million) business, which I cannot return to. The situation in our country is beyond inhumane.
Reported by Erkin Tarim for RFA’s Uyghur Service. Translated by RFA’s Uyghur Service.