Elderly Uyghur widow serving 17-year term in Xinjiang women’s prison

Helchem Pazil is one of five women from the same family who were sentenced in 2019.
By Shohret Hoshur
Photo courtesy of an RFA listener

An elderly Muslim Uyghur woman serving a long jail sentence for participating in religious gatherings in northwestern China’s Xinjiang region is being held in a women’s prison in the town of Sanji (in Chinese, Changji), detention center officials said.

Helchem Pazil, 78, is one of five women from the same family in Korla (in Chinese, Kuerle) who have been imprisoned for religious activities in which they participated in 2013, according to a verdict issued in April 2019 and recently seen by RFA.

They all were retroactively sentenced after China criminalized such activities in 2018 when it issued de-extremification regulations targeting Uyghurs, Kazakhs, and other Turkic minorities in Xinjiang, purportedly, to prevent extremist violations and ensure social stability.

RFA reported Monday that Helchem’s daughters, Melikizat and Patigul Memet, are incarcerated in the same prison, serving sentences of 20 and seven years, respectively.

Melikizat was convicted of providing a venue for religious observance and taking part in it, while Patigul was convicted of “collectively bringing social disorder” by attending the services.

Another daughter, Zahire Memet, and a daughter-in-law, Bostan Ibrahim, were convicted of “disturbing public order and inciting ethnic hatred” and for “hearing and providing a venue for illegal religious preaching,” according to the verdict, though it is not clear where they are serving their sentences.

The verdict did not mention the length of the sentence given to Helchem by the Korla Municipal Court.

A day after RFA confirmed that Melikizat and Patigul were being held at the Sanji Women’s Prison, calls to the detention center confirmed that Helchem Pazil was serving her lengthy sentence there as well, though she was placed in a different cell block. Melikizat is housed in cell block No. 3, while Patigul is in cell block No. 6.

After RFA gave the prison official Helchem’s national identification number, the person confirmed the woman’s age and said she was serving a 17-year sentence.

“She is in cell block No. 4,” the official said.

Prior to her arrest, Helchem, a widow with a primary school education, lived in Korla’s Chilanbagh Street neighborhood, according to information in the verdict.

She spent her days taking care of her seven children and grandchildren, said Halchigul Memet, whom the document says led the women in religious discussions and is now living in exile. She spoke to RFA from Turkey.

Helchem was charged with inciting ethnic discrimination, disturbing public order, providing a venue for religious preaching, and attending religious gatherings in a second-floor room of a hotel in Korla’s old bazaar.

Halchigul also told RFA that Helchem visited Turkey in 2015 or 2016 while performing the hajj, a pilgrimage to the holy city of Mecca in Saudi Arabia, which every adult Muslim who can must make at least once in his or her lifetime.

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


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