Jailed Uyghur Denied Scheduled Release, Served ‘Golden Years’ in Chinese Custody

Authorities did not free Ilham Iminjan in June after he completed a 15-year sentence.
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Uyghur Ilham Iminjan in an undated photo.
Photo courtesy of Arkin's Iminjan's former classmate

A Uyghur who served 15 years in prison on unknown charges in northwestern China’s Xinjiang region was not released when his sentence ended in June, and his family has no knowledge of his whereabouts, according to sources with knowledge of the situation.

Ilham Iminjan, 36, is the second-oldest male in a family of five sons, four of whom have been detained by authorities.

He was scheduled for release on June 22, but did not return to his family in Chapchal Xibe (in Chinese, Chabuchaer Xibo) county in the Ili Kazakh (Yili Hasake) Autonomous Prefecture, said a classmate of the man’s detained brother Arkin.

“The family expected him to come back home on June 22, but he did not return, and no notice has been received regarding an extension of his jail term,” the source told RFA.

“Ilham Iminjan was jailed when he was 21,” he said. “The entire golden period of his life was spent in prison. The family had planned to let him marry as soon as he was released.”

In early October, a Chapchal Xibe county official also told RFA that Ilham had not been released and “has not returned to the community.”

“I have not seen him in these past months or years,” he said.

An official from the village in Jaghistay township where Ilham’s family lives, also confirmed the man had not been released from prison in Chapchal county.

“They called from the prison and said he would be released in a few months or so, but he has not yet been released,” he told RFA.

Another county official did not answer RFA’s question as to why Ilham had not been released despite having completed his sentence. He also did not respond to a request for general comment on the numbers of detainees released.

Ilham’s older brother, Memetjan, 40, was sentenced to 18 years in prison in 2018.

His younger brother, Arkin, 33, served a six year-sentence from 2009 to 2015 for disrupting public order and attempting to “divide the country” by having “illegal materials” on his cell phone, his former schoolmate told RFA in an earlier report.

Arkin was detained a second time in 2017 as a former prisoner and served two years in an internment camp. He was then jailed again this September because of a phone call he had received from a “marked” person, according to the former classmate.

The second youngest son, Enwer, 27, was sentenced to six years in prison this June.

China has held up to 1.8 million Uyghurs and others in “re-education” camps since 2017, while dismissing widely documented evidence that it has mistreated Muslims living inside and outside the camps – including testimony from former detainees and guards describing widespread abuses in interviews with RFA and other media outlets.

China has said that the camps are vocational training facilities where Uyghurs and other Turkic people learn skills in an effort to prevent religious extremism and terrorism in the region, where about 12 million mostly Muslim Uyghurs live.

The Jaghistay village official did not deny that the four sons from one family were in state custody, but declined to provide details of the specific circumstances of Ilham and his brothers, including their sentences.

“I know that the sons of the family have not shown up for long time, but I have no idea where they are now and when they will be back in our community,” he said. “I can assume that some of them are serving jail terms and some are in a training center.”

Most of the Uyghurs and members of other Turkic minority groups arrested in Xinjiang in the past four years have not been released, while many of those who were have been rearrested and sent to internment camps because they were former prisoners, according to sources in the region. Those who completed their sentences have almost never returned to their families.

In a 2017 report, Xinjiang authorities explained why former prisoners should be rearrested, arguing that Uyghurs arrested in the aftermath of violent unrest in Xinjiang’s capital Urumqi (Wulumuqi) on July 5, 2009, had been released from prison in the following years.

Because former detainees and their relatives might contemplate revenge, authorities said, “‘training centers’ have been set up under the guise of clearing religious extremism, and those in the ‘centers’ have been detained only to maintain stability even if they have not committed any crime,” Qiu Yuanyuan, a researcher at the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region’s Party School, said in the report.

Reported by Shohret Hoshur for RFA’s Uyghur Service. Translated by the Uyghur Service. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.


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