The missing Uyghur owner of a successful tech business in northwest China’s Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR) has been confirmed held in one of the region’s internment camps, according to sources, who said she was targeted after having served time in prison for wearing a hijab, or traditional Muslim head covering for women.
Guljamal Ebeydulla, who is in her 30s and originally from Aksu (in Chinese, Akesu) prefecture’s Kuchar (Kuche) county, founded the Xinjiang Iqbal Technology Company—a electronics and computer hardware producer and retailer—in the XUAR capital Urumqi in 2010 with her brother, Abdukerim Ebeydulla, according to a source who spoke to RFA’s Uyghur Service on condition of anonymity.
After getting married, she moved in 2017 to her husband’s home township of Keleng, in Ili Kazakh (Yili Hasake) Autonomous Prefecture’s Nilka (Nileke) county, where she continued to run the business remotely until she went missing in May the same year, said the source, who is close with the family.
Seeking comment on Ebeydulla’s whereabouts, RFA made repeated calls to the contact numbers in Urumqi listed on Xinjiang Iqbal’s website over the course of several days, but was unable to speak with anyone from the company.
An officer who answered the phone at the Nilka Bazarliq Police Department, about 30 kilometers (19 miles) from Keleng township, told RFA he did not have anyone named Guljamal Ebeydulla under his jurisdiction.
He said no one from the area had been sent to internment camps, where authorities in the XUAR are believed to have held 1.8 million Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities accused of harboring “strong religious views” and “politically incorrect” ideas since April 2017.
An officer at the Keleng Township Police Department also denied knowledge of Ebeydulla or her company when contacted by RFA.
But when asked about people from the area who had been sent to internment camps, a Han Chinese clerk at the Keleng Township Department of Business and Enterprise said “the number is huge,” and that “I only know one person [by name],” before suggesting that further inquiries be made with a staffer who administers the list.
When pressed further, the clerk confirmed that the person was Ebeydulla.
“I know of her, but I don’t know if she has been released yet,” he said.
The clerk said he did not know when Ebeydulla was sent to the camp, and refused to disclose the name of the facility where she had been placed.
“I can’t tell you, even though I know,” he said.
“I’m not in a position to tell you, as I am just an ordinary office clerk, so it's best that you speak with our manager for further information.”
RFA was also able to confirm that Ebeydulla had been sent to a camp by speaking with an officer from a police department in a village under Keleng township, who declined to be named due to the sensitivity of the information he provided.
“She previously spent one year in prison and anyone who served a prison sentence in the past has been taken in [to the camps],” he said, adding that she was detained in a roundup of “20-30 people” from the township who had been previously jailed.
“She was implicated in something 10 years ago [related to wearing a hijab] and she was taken in at the early stage [of the policy of mass incarcerations] because she had a previous record. I never asked about the details of her case.”
The village police officer’s statement appeared to be in line with previous reporting by RFA, in which a village secretary in Atush (Atushi) city, in Kizilsu Kirghiz (Kezileisu Keerkezi) Autonomous Prefecture, revealed that when authorities first rolled out the camp system in early 2017, they initially targeted all former prisoners, detainees, and suspects for arrest.
“Although they were freed after serving their prison sentences, they were still under surveillance, as we couldn’t be sure that they wouldn’t become involved in the same activities again,” the secretary said at the time.
“Officers from the State Public Security Bureau arrested all of those people, and none have been released [from the camps] yet.”
While Beijing once denied the existence of the camps, China this year changed tack and began describing the facilities as “boarding schools” that provide vocational training for Uyghurs, discourage radicalization, and help protect the country from terrorism.
Reporting by RFA’s Uyghur Service and other media organizations, however, 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.
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.
On Tuesday, the U.S. House of Representatives approved a bill requiring tougher response from the Trump administration to China’s crackdown on Uyghurs in the XUAR, including sanctions on officials responsible for abuses.
The Uyghur Human Rights Policy Act, which was passed 407-1 in the Democratic Party-controlled House, requires U.S. President Donald Trump to condemn Chinese abuses in Xinjiang and call for the closure of the camps, and follows similar legislation passed by the Senate in September. An amended version of the bill still has to be approved by the Senate before being sent to Trump to be signed into law.
World Uyghur Congress President Dolkun Isa called the House passage of the bill a “powerful response …to China's policy of ethnic cleansing.”
“The passage of the Act will put enormous pressure on China to change its repressive policy. The passage also gives strong moral support and hope to the Uyghur people,” he told RFA.
The passage of the bill comes after U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo last week said a recent leak of official Chinese documents known collectively as the “China Cables,” including the first known “manual” for operating internment camps in the XUAR, is proof that Beijing is committing “very significant” rights violations in the region.
In September, at an event on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly in New York, U.S. Deputy Secretary of State John J. Sullivan said that the U.N. has failed to hold China to account over its policies in the XUAR and should demand unfettered access to the region to investigate reports of the mass incarceration and other rights abuses against Uyghurs.
Reported by Shohret Hoshur for RFA’s Uyghurs Service. Translated by Alim Seytoff. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.