Family members of Abdulreshit Seley Hajim buried the 65-year-old Uyghur businessman under the close scrutiny of Chinese security officials this week, nine months after he was put in a political reeducation camp, his brother told RFA’s Uyghur Service.
Seley was born in Ghulja (in Chinese, Yining) city in Xinjiang’s Ili Kazakh (Yili Hasake) Autonomous Prefecture, and sources told RFA he was detained during the heightened security crackdown taking place in the region and jailed in a camp in Ghuja’s Nilqa County, where he died recently.
“I was told that they brought his corpse yesterday,” the man’s younger brother told RFA by telephone from Turkey on Wednesday.
“It has been nine months since his detention. We did not know anything about his whereabouts and his detention before,” added the brother, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
“People who saw his corpse told us that he was hit with a blunt object on his head and his head was wrapped with a piece of white cloth. Our relatives were not allowed to see his head at all,” he said, adding that only a few family members were able to attend the burial.
Seley was jailed for five years following the 1997 Ghulja massacre, when as many as 167 Uyghurs were killed after police opened fire on crowds after two days of protests, the brother said.
“We’ve heard that his son also was taken to the camps, but released due to his heart condition. We don’t know where he is right now, or if he was released,” said the brother.
“My brother was a much respected public figure. He opened shops in Urumqi and did business here and there. He had arthritis and he could barely walk for ten meters, but he was dragged away by the authorities and nine months later, he is dead,” added the brother.
Police in Ghulja contacted by RFA said they had no information about the death or the funeral.
But an official in the Ghulja city mayors’ office said it would be “inconvenient to disclose such information.”
“I cannot disclose any information related to reeducation camps. I hope you will understand the situation we are in here,” added the official.
Seley’s death follows the reported death last month of an elderly Uyghur woman in Yamachang camp in Ghulja’s Bayanday township as a result of what sources said was her being “unable to cope with the pressure and terrible conditions” at the facility.
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.
China's central government authorities have not publicly acknowledged the existence of re-education camps in the region, and the number of inmates kept in each facility remains a closely guarded secret, but local officials in many parts of the region 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 XUAR 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 Uyghur activists say nearly every Uyghur household has been affected by the campaign.
Last month, U.S. Senator Marco Rubio and U.S. Representative Chris Smith—the chair and co-chair of the Congressional-Executive Commission on China—called on U.S. Ambassador to China Terry Branstad to visit Xinjiang and gather information on the detention of Uyghurs, which they termed "the largest mass incarceration of a minority population in the world today.”
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 Mamatjan Juma. Written in English by Paul Eckert.