HONG KONG—The Japan-based wife of an ethnic Uyghur researcher thought to have been freed Tuesday after serving 11 years in prison says that Chinese authorities offered her and her husband well-paying jobs to remain in China.
Rabiye Tohti, 45 and a naturalized Japanese citizen, said in an interview that several of her husband’s professors and a number of journalists had travelled from Japan to Prison No. 3 in Urumqi, in China’s northwesternmost province of Xinjiang, to greet Tohti Tunyaz upon his release on Feb. 10.
“They waited all night but when they went to ask where he was, the authorities said he had already left,” Tohti said. She hadn’t yet spoken with him, she said.
“Even if he has been freed, he’s not totally free. He cannot go anywhere he wants. He might be forced to praise the government and the [Communist] party,” she said.
“Three months ago, the authorities asked me many times to come back from Japan. They promised a well-paying job to my husband. They told me they would give me a well-paying job too. ‘Your life in Japan is very difficult—you should come back,’ they said. ‘If you come back you will have a very good life—you will be with your relatives and have a very good life.’”
Scholar of Uyghur culture
Tunyaz, 49, was born in Bay county of Aksu prefecture, in the southern part of the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region. He graduated from university in Beijing and went on to pursue a doctorate in Uyghur culture at Tokyo University.
Chinese authorities arrested him in 1998 after he copied a list of historical documents at a public records office in Xinjiang. He was handed an 11-year jail term for allegedly endangering state security.
Tohti, who obtained Japanese citizenship last week, said she had sought permission to bring her husband to Japan for medical treatment, citing a foot injury resulting from a car accident. She said she had travelled to Urumqi twice to see her husband in 1998 but wasn’t allowed to visit him.
Prison officials, contacted by telephone during and after working hours, declined to comment.
The Yomiuri Shimbun newspaper quoted a spokesman for Tokyo University as saying, “If he's willing to return to his studies, the door's open."
The spokesman said the university renews Tunyaz's temporary leave status every year, and a new instructor was assigned for him after his previous teacher retired.
Uyghurs, who are mostly Muslim, constitute a distinct ethnic minority in Xinjiang. Chinese authorities have accused some Uyghurs of conducting terrorist violence in recent years.
In its 2008 annual report, the Congressional Executive Commission on China reported that "human rights abuses in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region remain severe, and repression increased in the past year... [The] government uses anti-terrorism campaigns as a pretext for enforcing repressive security measures and for controlling expressions of religious and ethnic identity...."
In 2007, it said, the head of the Xinjiang High People’s Court said that the region bears an ‘‘extremely strenuous’’ caseload for crimes involving endangering state security. Chinese media reported that courts in the region would ‘‘regard ensuring [state] security and social stability [as] their primary task."
Original reporting by Akida for RFA’s Uyghur service. Translated by Uyghur service director Dolkun Kamberi. Written and produced in English by Sarah Jackson-Han.