A detainee in a video report documenting China’s mass incarceration of Uyghurs in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR) has been identified as a former cultural official from Kashgar (in Chinese, Kashi) prefecture and father of two, according to a source.
In June, the BBC published a video in which a reporter is led on official tours of several internment camps, where authorities in the XUAR have held up to 1.5 million Uyghurs and other Muslim ethnic minorities accused of harboring “strong religious views” and “politically incorrect” ideas since April 2017.
The reporter is shown Uyghurs singing and dancing, and “learning skills,” as part of a bid by authorities to promote Beijing’s narrative that the camps are actually “boarding schools” that provide vocational training and protect the country from terrorism.
Later, he speaks with former inmates who corroborate reporting by RFA’s Uyghur Service and other media outlets 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.
A former resident of the seat of Kashgar prefecture recently informed RFA that he had identified one of the detainees in the video—shown studying at a camp in the city known as No. 4 Middle School—as a classmate of his in elementary school named Akber Ebeydulla, who he said had been working as an official with Kashgar Department of Cultural Heritage.
The source, who lives in exile in Turkey and spoke on condition of anonymity, said that Ebeydulla was a university graduate and researcher of history who spoke Mandarin Chinese and English nearly flawlessly, and would have no need for “vocational training.”
Ebeydulla, who had received multiple awards for his work at both the prefectural and regional level, was detained because he had been too “proud” while explaining Uyghur cultural heritage to foreigners and was suspected of “harming the state,” the source said.
RFA contacted a staff member at the Kashgar Department of Cultural Heritage who confirmed that Ebeydulla worked there, but deferred questions to the prefectural government when asked whether he had been taken to an internment camp.
But a second staff member at the same office answered “no” when asked whether Ebeydulla had been released from internment.
RFA also contacted Kashgar’s Nangan Police Station, which has jurisdiction over the Kuyashnur Civil Servant Residential District where Ebeydulla lives with his wife and two children.
An officer at the station said that Ebeydulla had been “taken in the beginning of 2017,” but said he was unsure of why he was detained.
“He was suspected of offenses at work … [and] taken away from his home,” the officer said.
Ebeydulla is one 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.”
He is 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.
Last week, a former classmate told RFA that a Uyghur named Rejepniyaz Hebibulla, who was portrayed in a video by official Chinese media as a successful example of “vocational training” in the XUAR, is a university-schooled architect who held a lucrative job prior to his detention.
In April, U.S.-based World Uyghur Congress Vice President Perhat Muhammet revealed the names and professions of five Uyghur inmates in a widely published photograph of scores of men sitting in a XUAR internment camp, 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, and confirmed that they 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.
In March, a Uyghur father of three who fled the XUAR for Turkey told RFA he recognized his son in a widely distributed official video being quizzed on propaganda points about the Chinese “fatherland” in Mandarin Chinese at an orphanage for the children of people detained in internment camps.
His claim followed one in January by a Uyghur mother who also fled to Turkey who said she had identified her daughter in a video portraying Uyghur children at an orphanage in Hotan.
Call for accountability
Mass incarcerations in the XUAR, as well as other policies seen to violate the rights of Uyghurs and other Muslims, have led to increasing calls by the international community to hold Beijing accountable for its actions in the region.
Earlier this month, at the Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom in Washington, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo called the internment camps in the XUAR “one of the worst human rights crises of our time” and “truly the stain of the century.”
U.S. Vice President Mike Pence also slammed the camps “where [Uyghurs] endure around-the-clock brainwashing” and survivors have described their experience as “a deliberate attempt by Beijing to strangle Uyghur culture and stamp out the Muslim faith.”
U.S. Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom Sam Brownback recently told RFA in an interview that countries around the world must speak out on the Uyghur camps, or risk emboldening China and other authoritarian regimes.
The U.S. Congress has also joined in efforts to halt the incarcerations, debating legislation that seeks accountability for China’s harsh crackdown on the Uyghurs. The Uyghur Human Rights Policy Act would appoint a special State Department coordinator on Xinjiang and require regular reports on the camps, the surveillance network, and the security threats posed by the crackdown.
Reported by Shohret Hoshur for RFA’s Uyghur Service. Translated by RFA’s Uyghur Service. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.