Amid a campaign of arrests that has led to serious overcrowding in area political detention centers, authorities in northwestern China’s Xinjiang region are neglecting the health of Uyghur inmates, according to sources familiar with the cases.
Since April 2017, Uyghurs accused of harboring “extremist” 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.
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.
Sources recently told RFA that Uyghurs in at least two detention centers in the region are suffering from medical conditions that they believe are being neglected by facility staff.
Naman Bawdun, a Uyghur former head and Communist Party secretary of Awat township’s Bashawat village, in Bayin’gholin Mongol (in Chinese, Bayinguoleng Menggu) Autonomous Prefecture’s Korla (Kuerle) city, said earlier this month that his wife, Patigul Dawut, had been detained on Oct. 9 for allegedly “allowing others to preach religion,” after workers were said to have delivered Islamic sermons at her carpet factory.
Dawut was ordered to serve six months in a local detention center, despite suffering from a number of health complications, Bawdun said, adding that he hasn’t seen her since she was taken into custody by police.
“She had her pancreas removed, underwent heart surgery, and got into a car accident that led to three additional surgeries, but now she is being detained and I don’t believe she receives any medication for her conditions,” he said.
“So many people have been detained that no officer would bother to ask her about her painful conditions unless she was to collapse, and only then would they send her to a hospital or to me for care. That’s what I’m waiting for.”
Bawdun said that a friend who spent time as an inmate at a local re-education camp told him he had seen officials from the center tell the police to “stop bringing people … as it is already too full.”
He described cells that had previously held eight people now accommodating 14 inmates, who “were not allowed pillows” and “had to lay on their sides because there was not enough room to lay flat,” let alone space to turn over or stretch their legs.
Other acquaintances told Bawdun that they had seen “detainees walking barefoot,” and that inmates were “not allowed clothes with buttons or metal zippers,” belts, shoelaces, or “even underwear” in some cases, despite average low temperatures of around 15 degrees Fahrenheit (-10 degrees Celsius) at night in December.
In a separate report, the security chief of Chasa township, in Kashgar (Kashi) prefecture’s Kashgar city, told RFA that a fruit and nut merchant from Uruk Bazaar in Kashgar’s Yengisar (Yingjisha) county named Mahat Omer is currently receiving medical treatment at a hospital in the city after developing serious complications from health condition while in detention.
According to the security chief, who spoke on condition of anonymity, Omer, 55, had been arrested about six months ago after he went on an unapproved Hajj pilgrimage to the Islamic holy city of Mecca in 2016. The merchant had shown no other signs of “extremist” behavior, he added.
In the beginning of 2017, authorities added those who make unsanctioned pilgrimages to Mecca—an obligation to Muslims according to the Five Pillars of Islam—to a list of “The Six Types of Important People to Watch,” despite only allowing a very small number of people to make the journey each year.
“He has diabetes and now his feet are oozing pus, so he is receiving treatment for that,” the security chief said.
“He has been suffering from diabetes for some time. One of my sons who works in security in Uruk Bazaar is looking after him in the hospital.”
It was not immediately clear whether Omer had developed complications because authorities had refused to provide him with treatment, or if his condition had worsened due to neglect.
The security chief said that around 30 Uyghurs from Uruk Bazaar are currently being held in detention.
According to the US State Department’s 2016 report on human rights, Uyghurs in China have complained of “systematic torture and other degrading treatment by law enforcement officers and the penal system.”
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.