A Uyghur inmate in a photograph of scores of men sitting in an internment camp in China’s Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR) has been identified as a driver for a cement factory named Mettursun Eziz, according to former acquaintance.
The new information brings to six the number of people identified in photos, originally posted to the WeChat account of the Xinjiang Judicial Administration, showing Uyghur detainees listening to a “de-radicalization” speech at a camp in the seat of Hotan (in Chinese, Hetian) prefecture's Lop (Luopu) county in April 2017.
Eziz—a 35-year-old father of four who has worked as a driver for a cement factory in Lop township for nearly 10 years—was recognized by a friend from the area who now lives in exile in Turkey, and who spoke to RFA’s Uyghur on condition of anonymity, fearing reprisals by authorities against family members who still live in the XUAR.
According to the source, Eziz was taken into custody “in early 2017” for “giving a lift to a neighbor to see their son in prison” and his family was initially informed that he would be held at an internment camp for only 15 days.
In the more than two-and-a-half years that Eziz has been detained, the source said, his family members have been denied visits with him at the Kaifaqu Camp, located in the Beijing Industrial Zone in front of Lop’s cement factory and No. 1 Middle School.
Eziz and other men in the photo are among up to 1.5 million Uyghurs and other Muslim ethnic minorities accused of harboring “strong religious views” and “politically incorrect” ideas and held in political “re-education camps” across the XUAR since April 2017.
RFA’s Uyghur Service called the Lop county government office to verify the source’s claims, but was told by officials who answered the phone that they did not know him or to contact other relevant departments.
A staff member at the Lop Cement Factory told RFA that “no one among our colleagues is currently in an internment camp,” although he acknowledged that “they all are studying the official state language, because everyone is required to communicate in [Mandarin Chinese].”
“There isn’t anyone available to talk to you,” he added.
Authorities are believed to have held up to 1.5 million Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities accused of harboring “strong religious views” and “politically incorrect” ideas in a vast network of internment camps in the XUAR since April 2017, although Beijing describes them as “boarding schools” that provide vocational training and protect the country from terrorism.
Reporting by RFA’s Uyghur Service and other media organizations has shown that those in the camps are detained against their will and subjected to political indoctrination, routinely face rough treatment at the hands of their overseers, and endure poor diets and unhygienic conditions in the often overcrowded facilities.
While the Lop county government and the Lop Cement Factory were unable to confirm that Eziz had been detained, a staff member with the Neighborhood Committee of Lop’s No. 1 district told RFA he knows the driver and said he had been taken to “the Kaifaqu Camp … more than a year ago.”
The staff member said he did not know the reason Eziz had been detained.
When asked about Eziz’s family, the staff member told RFA that one of his five siblings—a younger brother named Mirzexmet—had also been placed in a camp “for more than a year,” but said he did not know why the brother was held or whether it had anything to do with Eziz’s detention.
Other identified inmates
The identification of Eziz comes months after friends and acquaintances identified five Uyghur inmates in a widely published photograph believed to show detainees listening to the same “de-radicalization” speech at the Kaifaqu Camp, taken from a different angle.
On April 19, the Facebook page of the U.S.-based World Uyghur Congress Vice President Perhat Muhammet revealed their names and professions, based on information provided by a man from Lop county and who is now living in exile. RFA conducted telephone interviews with the Lop county man and others who knew the inmates.
The five men are medical equipment entrepreneur Mamtimin, restaurant and bakery proprietor Aziz Haji Shangtang, religious teacher and jade merchant Eli Ahun Qarim, woodworker Abdulla Haret, and driver Abduleziz Haji.
Eziz and the other men are six of many Uyghur professionals and intellectuals who have been identified as detainees in XUAR internment camps, and who defy claims by authorities that those held in the facilities are in need of “vocational training.”
They are also one of many Uyghurs who have been identified through photographs or videos produced by either the government or official media as part of a bid to bolster Beijing’s pretext for its policies in the region.
Recent claims by China that it has already released almost all of those held in the camps were met with skepticism by human rights and Uyghur exile groups, who said that Beijing is seeking to blunt demands for accountability for its treatment of Muslim ethnic groups in the Xinjiang region.
Reported by RFA’s Uyghur Service. Translated by Mamatjan Juma. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.