Two brothers of Uyghur in exile detained for calling ‘separatist’ sibling abroad

Local government officials sanctioned the calls, but later arrested the pair for conversing with their brother.
By Shohret Hoshur
Photo courtesy of Ghopur Ebey

The brothers of a Uyghur based in the Netherlands have been arrested by authorities in northwestern China’s Xinjiang region for contacting a sibling abroad deemed a “terrorist” during officially sanctioned phone calls, officials confirmed to RFA.

Ghopur Ebey, 46, left his family in Baytoqay village of Ghulja (in Chinese, Yining) city in 2009 and moved to the town of Alkmaar in the Netherlands.

Ghopur told RFA in September that two of his brothers, Ehtem and Shakir Ebey, were taken away after they talked to him using a phone provided by local authorities who gave them permission to call Ghopur abroad.

A third brother, Shukur Ebey, was arrested in 2017 and detained for two years in an internment camp after he took a group trip to Turkey, though he had received permission from officials to travel to the country, which is considered a safe haven for persecuted Muslim Uyghurs and a defender of their rights.

When RFA contacted village officials to confirm the identities of Ghopur’s brothers and ask why they were apprehended, a judicial office employee responded, “They are Ehtem Ebey and Shakir Ebey.” Authorities arrested them for talking to Ghopur in the Netherlands, he said.

When asked why authorities allowed Ghopur’s family members to call him abroad but then punished them for doing so, the official said he could not answer further questions and suggested that RFA obtain additional information from the Communist Party command headquarters.

But when RFA contacted that office, officials there declined to comment.

Other local officials in Baytoqay village told RFA that they did not know Ehtem and Shakir Ebey and were unaware of their cases.

Ghopur told RFA that his three brothers were ordinary citizens who were arbitrarily arrested and repressed simply because of their ethnic identity as Uyghurs.

Chinese authorities allowed Shukur, the eldest of the brothers who is a businessman in Ghulja, to travel to Turkey in 2013 as part of an officially approved tour group.

But in 2017, authorities arrested Shukur in the middle of the night, placing a black hood over his head and taking him to an internment camp because he had traveled to Turkey, Ghopur said.

In early 2018, Ghopur provided video testimony about Shukur’s arrest, after which Shukur and a number of other relatives who had been detained in the “re-education” camps were released.

China has held up to 1.8 million Uyghurs and others in internment camps since 2017, while dismissing evidence that it has mistreated the Muslim minority, including testimony from former detainees and guards describing widespread abuses in interviews with RFA and other media outlets.

China has said that the camps are vocational training facilities where Uyghurs and other Turkic people learn skills to find jobs under policies aimed at preventing religious extremism and terrorism in the region.

News of the release of Shukur and others was conveyed to Ghopur through a special arrangement by local authorities who appointed Ehtem to communicate on behalf of his family using a government-provided phone.

In January 2019, Baytoqay village officials allowed arranged for Ehtem to call Ghopur on a dedicated phone line whose number ended in 113, Ghopur said.

“They called me while they were surrounded by Chinese police, and after that the police told my relatives that they could call me and contact me,” he told RFA.

“Then, my first younger brother was allowed by the authorities to contact me on behalf of all my family members,” he said.

During their conversations, they were very careful not to speak about anything political or sensitive because they knew that authorities were listening to the calls, Ghopur said.

After Ghopur suddenly lost contact with Ehtem, one of his contacts living abroad told him that Ehtem had been detained in December 2020 on charges that he had “spoken with his separatist brother in the Netherlands.”

Sometime later, Ghopur learned that his youngest brother Shakir had also been arrested for the same reason.

When RFA called the number ending in 113, an official who answered did not comment when questioned about the Ehtem and Shakir’s detentions, but did not deny that they had used the same government-issued phone to call Ghopur.

“We cannot tell you the details without seeing you in person,” said the official when asked who was present when Ehtem and Shakir called Ghopur on the phone.

Translated by the Uyghur Service. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.


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