Chinese Authorities Detain Uyghur Hotelier in Xinjiang’s Kashgar City

Obulkasim Haji was arrested in December and sent to a ‘political re-education camp,’ sources said.

The Kasir Hotel, in Kashgar city, in an undated photo.

Authorities in northwest China’s Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR) have detained the prominent ethnic Uyghur owner of a hotel in Kashgar (in Chinese, Kashi) city, according to an official source.

Obulkasim Haji, the 67-year-old owner of the Kasir Hotel in Kashgar and father of five, was taken into custody and sent to a “political re-education camp,” a source recently told RFA’s Uyghur Service, speaking on condition of anonymity.

RFA confirmed the detention of Haji—one of the region’s wealthiest businessmen—in a phone call to Kashgar’s Doletbagh police station, in Kashgar’s Yuan Fang district, which has since taken over operation of his hotel.

An officer who answered the phone at the station, and asked to remain unnamed, told RFA that while he was unsure of which re-education camp Haji is being held in, the hotelier had been “taken away from a hospital in [XUAR capital] Urumqi, where he was receiving treatment … around Dec. 5” last year.

The officer said he did not know which hospital Haji was detained at, and did not provide details of what ailment he was being treated for or why he was taken into custody. It was unclear whether charges have been filed.

Haji had been questioned by police “on one occasion” in the past, but was not detained at the time, he said, without saying why he had been under investigation.

Since April 2017, Uyghurs accused of harboring “strong religious views” and “politically incorrect” views have been jailed or detained in re-education camps throughout the XUAR, where members of the ethnic group have long complained of pervasive discrimination, religious repression, and cultural suppression under Chinese rule.

The six-story Kasir Hotel is also home to Haji’s popular Ak Tulpar restaurant and a banquet hall used for weddings and other large ceremonies, but had never been rented out to any “inappropriate people,” the officer said.

He said he was unaware whether Haji had any business interests abroad, and that there had never been anyone who stayed at his hotel who later “caused any trouble” in the region.

Normally, the officer said, someone might be detained and sent to a re-education camp for “illegal, anti-government activities, or suspicious behavior.”

“There are CCTV (closed-circuit television) cameras installed everywhere, and we watch people’s movements and actions,” he added.

But Haji had “openly opposed praying while at work,” the officer said, and had told his employees to refrain from doing so.

“He was very strict on that and never bent the rules,” he added.

Father of five

Haji made occasional donations to help the poor and in support of government-run schools and other institutions, according to the officer.

He is the father of five children, aged 20-38, who are “all involved in business,” he said.

Of the five children, his sons Abdulla—the Kasir Hotel’s manager—and Mehmet Sidiq have been held in re-education camps since “September” and “for more than two months,” the officer added, without providing further details.

When asked whether his other three children would remain free, the officer said he did not know.

“Only the people in charge can make that decision—I simply carry out my duties here,” he said.

A businessman from Kashgar named Abdurahman Hesen, who currently resides in Turkey, told RFA that he had also heard of Haji’s detention and said he was surprised by the reports because the hotelier had always enjoyed good relations with the local government.

“He owned the Kasir Hotel and Restaurant and two or three restaurants … [which] regularly hosted government officials and leaders,” he said, noting that alcohol was served at the establishments, unlike at those owned by more devoutly Muslim Uyghurs.

“He had a very close relationship with the Chinese government. He collaborated with the Chinese authorities since he started his business and enjoyed support from government officials.”

Camp network

China's central government authorities have not publicly acknowledged the existence of re-education camps in the XUAR, 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.

Since Xinjiang party chief Chen 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.”

In January, RFA learned that authorities jailed Abdujelil Hajim, Gheni Haji, Memet Tursun Haji, and Imin Hajim—the four wealthiest Uyghurs in Kashgar city—for acts of “religious extremism.” The men—all successful business owners in the city—were taken into custody in May 2017 and later sentenced to a total of 42 years in prison, sources said.

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 by Shohret Hoshur for RFA's Uyghur Service. Translated by RFA's Uyghur Service. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.