‘It’s Been Years, But There’s Been No News’: Uyghur Missing 35 Family Members in Xinjiang

uyghur-camp-artush-kashgar-june-2019.jpg A facility believed to be an internment camp located north of Kashgar, in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, June 2, 2019.

Memetrusul Hesen an ethnic Uyghur from Kashgar (in Chinese, Kashi) prefecture, in northwest China’s Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR) who is currently living in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan, has not had any form of contact with 35 members of his family, all of whom live back in Kashgar’s Kargilik (Yecheng) county, for more than four years. Hesen, who is now a Kyrgyz citizen along with his mother, 92-year-old Halimihan Ahun, left Kargilik for Kyrgyzstan with Ahun to arrange for immigration papers for many of their family members in March 2016. They have not been able to return to Kargilik since then and have learned what little they know about the disappearance of their family members—who include Ahun’s five other children and more than 20 grandchildren and great-grandchildren—from friends and acquaintances. Hesen and his mother have made repeated trips to the Chinese Embassy in Bishkek to make formal requests for information about their family members, as well as to the offices of Kyrgyz authorities to advocate on their behalf but have obtained little information.

Hesen believes that his wife, Nurimangul, was imprisoned in Kargilik in 2017, but is unsure of the fates of their teenaged daughter and twin boys. Hesen’s eldest sister, Patemhan Hesen, and her daughter are both thought to have been sent to the same prison that year as well. It is unclear what has become of the rest of the family. Hesen recently spoke with RFA’s Uyghur Service after he and his mother learned that U.S. President Donald Trump last month enacted the Uyghur Human Rights Policy Act of 2020 (UHRPA), which passed nearly unanimously through both houses of Congress at the end of May. The legislation highlights arbitrary incarceration, forced labor, and other abuses in the XUAR and provides for sanctions against Chinese officials deemed responsible for them under the Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act. Hesen told RFA that he heard his family members had been found “guilty” of maintaining contact with people living abroad. He said that he wants nothing more than to know that his relatives are safe and for he and his mother to one day be reunited with them.

Hesen: Since [2016], my mom and I have been living here as Kyrgyz citizens. My wife, children, and siblings, my sisters, are all back there [in Kargilik].

RFA: Have you been in touch with them since then?

Hesen: In 2016, three months after leaving, we were able to talk to one another [for the last time]. My wife told me I needed to go back home immediately. I told her I couldn’t leave my mom alone because she’d broken her foot and I needed to help her get treatment. But [my wife] told me to leave her and go back [to Kargilik]. ‘If you don’t come back, it’ll be bad,’ she said. Apparently, they took my wife, oldest sister, and my oldest sister’s daughter in 2017. There’s a prison called Qucha. Apparently, they took them there. It’s been years, but there’s been no news.

We’ve gone to the [Chinese] embassy to file complaints at least 40 or 50 times. The police forced us out and we didn’t get any answers. There’s been no answer, no telephone calls from them … When I started asking around [about my wife and children], I heard that there was no one left at home. But I don’t know any details about where they are.

RFA: How old are your children?

Hesen: My daughter is 17 this year. My two sons were born in 2005, on Oct. 12. They’re twins. I don’t have any news about them. I have been unable to find out anything about them for the past three years … [My mother] has five [other] children: Patem Hesen, Halis Hesen, Melike Hesen, Meryem Hesen, and Memetnurulla Hesen. Along with their children and grandchildren, as well as their children-in-law, that’s 35 people who are missing. Her sons-in-law, the daughters’ husbands, have been locked up. Qucha prison in Kargilik, we heard that they took them there … My mom cries every day. She sits and cries.

RFA: Are you hoping that the new Uyghur Human Rights Policy Act will be a big driving force [for change]?

Hesen: Yes, we’re really hoping for that, that something big will come from this. I want to say a big thanks to [America] for thinking about a people enduring such suffering.

Reported by Gulchechre Hoja for RFA’s Uyghur Service. Translated by Elise Anderson. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.

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