Authorities in northwest China’s Xinjiang region have detained more than 30 relatives of exiled Uyghur leader Rebiya Kadeer in recent months, including two sons who were previously jailed on charges related to “secessionist activities” and “tax evasion,” she said Friday.
Kadeer, president of the Munich-based exile World Uyghur Congress (WUC), told RFA’s Uyghur Service that she was unsure of the whereabouts of her family members, though they are likely to have been “sent to prison or the political re-education camps”—a vast network of which have been used since April to hold thousands of Uyghurs accused of harboring “extremist” and “politically incorrect” views.
“Of my immediate relatives—including my children and grandchildren—altogether 11 have been detained,” the 70-year-old mother of 11 said.
“But if I include the children of my brother and other relatives, more than 30 are being held,” ranging in age from 22 to 58.
Kadeer said that while “many” of her distant relatives had been taken away by police, she never expected that authorities would arrest her children and grandchildren, “because they have been under virtual house arrest and 24/7 police surveillance since I came to the U.S.”
The formerly successful businesswoman was released from a Chinese prison in March 2005 on medical parole after being jailed for six years for sending politically sensitive newspaper clippings abroad, and went into exile in the U.S.
While some of Kadeer’s children have relocated to the U.S., others remain with their families in Xinjiang, where members of the ethnic group complain of pervasive discrimination, religious repression, and cultural suppression under Chinese rule.
Authorities in China have targeted members of Kadeer's family since she was first imprisoned in 1999 for “endangering state security,” and further intensified their harassment following her release and immigration to the U.S.
Kadeer said that her grandchildren had “never spoken to me out of fear,” and weren’t involved in politics, but that hadn’t stopped authorities from arresting four of them—Dildar, Hajidar, Qedirye, and Zulpiqar.
Her sons Alim and Ablikim Abdureyim, who served seven and nine years in prison, respectively, were also among immediate family members who were detained, she said.
Ablikim Abdureyim had been released from the No. 4 Prison in Xinjiang’s capital Urumqi in May 2015 after serving a nine-year prison sentence for “instigating and engaging in secessionist activities” related to articles he published online.
According to the WUC, evidence of his “secessionist activities” was never provided by the state, despite allegations that he had disseminated pro-secession articles, planned to incite anti-government protest, and wrote an essay misrepresenting human rights conditions in the region.
On Nov. 27, 2006—the day after Kadeer was elected president of the WUC—a court sentenced Alim Abdureyim and another of her sons, Kahar Abdureyim, to fines amounting to millions of U.S. dollars, and Alim to seven years’ imprisonment on charges of tax evasion.
In May 2012, officials in Xinjiang compelled Alim Abdureyim to sign documents in prison handing over two family-owned buildings in Urumqi to the government, the WUC has said.
One of ‘millions’
Scrutiny of other family members—including Kadeer’s children and grandchildren and their spouses—increased following July 2009 ethnic unrest that erupted between Uyghurs and Han Chinese in Urumqi, which Beijing accused her of orchestrating.
But Kadeer stressed Friday that her family is just one of “millions of Uyghur families … paying the price for demanding our legitimate rights” in Xinjiang, and called on the international community to pressure China over its oppressive policies in the region.
“[Beijing] believes it has a free hand to do whatever it wants with the Uyghur people—whether to detain, arrest, imprison or kill them,” she said.
“The Uyghur issue is no longer a simple human rights issue, in light of Chinese government’s heavy-handed repression.”
Kadeer called on U.S. President Donald Trump to “prioritize the Uyghur issue and raise their current suffering” with Chinese leaders during a planned visit to Beijing in November.
Reported by Jilil Kashgary for RFA’s Uyghur Service. Translated by Alim Seytoff. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.