Authorities in the capital of northwestern China’s Xinjiang region have ordered a landlord to evict a Uyghur family from their rented home as punishment for having questioned officials over the fate of a family member missing since deadly ethnic riots rocked the city four years ago.
Following the drastic action, other landlords in Urumqi have also been forbidden by the authorities to rent to the family, leaving them homeless, the missing boy’s father said.
“Because we searched for our son, we—a family of six—are doomed to be left in the streets,” Helaji Abdukerim told RFA’s Uyghur Service this week.
Alimjan Helaji, 17, is one of thousands of Uyghurs reported missing since deadly riots broke out between Han Chinese and Uyghurs on July 5, 2009. Most are believed to have been taken into custody by authorities in large-scale sweep operations.
The missing boy’s parents had persistently questioned officials over the youth’s whereabouts, and when the family refused to give up its search, they were finally forced from their home, Helaji Abdukerim said.
“On March 29, our landlord was called in by the police, and when I went to argue with them they detained all six members of my family, including my infant child, for 24 hours,” he said.
“Next day, they took me to a detention center and kept me there for 12 days,” he said.
The Han Chinese chief of the local Bahuliang police station had ordered his detention, he said.
Following his release, he began searching for a new home, but then learned that a “secret order” had been issued to which his photo, and that of his son, had been attached.
“The order says that anyone renting to us will be punished, and it was distributed to landlords with a warning not to show it to anyone,” he said.
“However, I got a copy of the order,” he added.
When he confronted the vice secretary of the Urumqi Municipal Political Law office with his copy of the document, he said, he was told he had only himself to blame for his troubles.
“This was issued because you searched for your son,” the vice secretary, who gave her name only as Reyhan, told him, he said.
“If you had not been searching for your son, you would not be in this situation,” she added.
“I asked her if she was a mother herself, and she said ‘yes,” Helaji Abdukerim said. “She also said that I should leave Urumqi, but I have no home in Kashgar Beshkeram, my hometown.”
“I have no place to go. I wanted to keep my family alive by selling fruit here in Urumqi, but it has been made very difficult for me.”
Helaji Abdukerim said he had been trying for the last six months to inform RFA of his family’s situation.
“There is no place in the world where we can talk about our grievances except for you,” he said.
Fears for family
Also speaking to RFA, Helaji Abdukerim’s wife Qurbangul Turdi said she did not highlight the family’s problems to the media previously because she feared her husband and family would be harmed.
“I didn’t talk to you because I was frightened for my husband’s life and for the lives of my children,” she said.
“We are struggling to keep our other four children alive, let alone search for our missing son, but they are not letting us do this,” she said, adding, “We don’t know what we should do.”
“Even if we give up searching, our lives have been made so difficult now. We can only wait to see what happens.”
Uyghurs in Xinjiang say they have long suffered ethnic discrimination, oppressive religious controls, and continued poverty and joblessness, blaming their hardships partly on a massive influx of Han Chinese into the region.
Chinese authorities regularly blame outbreaks of violence on “separatists” and “terrorists,” but rights groups say Beijing exaggerates the terrorism threat to take the heat off domestic policies that cause unrest or to justify the authorities’ use of force against Uyghurs.
Reported by Shohret Hoshur for RFA’s Uyghur Service. Translated by Mamatjan Juma. Written in English by Richard Finney.