A 34-year-old ethnic Uyghur father of two has died from health complications after being incarcerated for nearly six months at a political “re-education camp” in Ili Kazakh (in Chinese, Yili Hasake) Autonomous Prefecture, in northwest China’s Xinjiang region, according to official sources.
Since April 2017, Uyghurs accused of harboring “strong religious views” and “politically incorrect” views have been jailed or detained in re-education camps throughout Xinjiang, where members of the ethnic group have long complained of pervasive discrimination, religious repression, and cultural suppression under Chinese rule.
While investigating reports that a Uyghur woman in her 60s had recently died at a camp in Bayanday township, in Ili Kazakh’s Ghulja (Yining) county, RFA’s Uyghur Service determined that a young man from the area passed away late last year after becoming sick in detention.
An official who answered the phone at the No. 2 Village government building in Bayanday said no women from her village had died, but volunteered that a man “fell ill in the camp and then died in the hospital.”
The phone was then passed to a security officer at the village government building, who told RFA that the man’s name was Abdughappar Abdujappar, and that he had died in December last year at the Bayanday Township People’s Hospital, after being held in “the School of Finance Re-education Camp … [for] a maximum of five to six months.”
“He was about 34 … [and had] a wife with two children,” the security officer said.
“He was a cook in a dumpling restaurant in Bayanday.”
When asked about Abdujappar’s health and the reason for his detention, the security chief said he could not provide details, as he had only been working in his position for about four months.
“It happened before I started,” he said, adding that Abdujappar “was taken for re-education from a different village."
“He is from No. 4 Village,” the officer said.
Calls by RFA to the No. 4 Village government office went unanswered.
China's central government authorities have not publicly acknowledged the existence of re-education camps in Xinjiang, and the number of inmates kept in each facility remains a closely guarded secret, but local officials in many parts of Xinjiang have in RFA telephone interviews forthrightly described sending significant numbers of Uyghurs to the camps and even described overcrowding in some facilities.
Maya Wang of the New York-based Human Rights Watch told The Guardian in January that estimates of Xinjiang residents who had spent time in the camps went as high as 800,000, while at least one Uyghur exile group estimates that up to 1 million Uyghurs have been detained throughout the region since April 2017, and some activists say nearly every Uyghur household has been affected by the campaign.
Prior reporting by RFA’s Uyghur Service found that as arrests in Xinjiang increased around the sensitive 19th Communist Party Congress in Beijing in October, the region’s re-education camps have been inundated by detainees, who are forced to endure cramped and squalid conditions in the facilities.
Last month, authorities in Kashgar (Kashi) prefecture’s Yopurgha (Yuepuhu) county told RFA that a 17-year-old Uyghur boy named Yaqupjan Naman, who was detained for “traveling overseas,” had died of unknown causes at a local re-education camp. His father was not provided with the cause of the boy’s death and was forced to bury his body under police supervision, the sources said.
Since Xinjiang party chief Chen Quanguo was appointed to his post in August 2016, he has initiated unprecedented repressive measures against the Uyghur people and ideological purges against so-called “two-faced” Uyghur officials—a term applied by the government to Uyghurs who do not willingly follow directives and exhibit signs of “disloyalty.”
China regularly conducts “strike hard” campaigns in Xinjiang, including police raids on Uyghur households, restrictions on Islamic practices, and curbs on the culture and language of the Uyghur people, including videos and other material.
While China blames some Uyghurs for "terrorist" attacks, experts outside China say Beijing has exaggerated the threat from the Uyghurs and that repressive domestic policies are responsible for an upsurge in violence there that has left hundreds dead since 2009.
Reported by Shohret Hoshur for RFA’s Uyghur Service. Translated by RFA's Uyghur Service. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.