‘The Man in Shackles is my Father’: Daughter of Jailed ‘Two-Faced’ Uyghur Official

The daughter of a jailed high-ranking Uyghur official discusses why she chose to end her silence.
2021-05-17
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‘The Man in Shackles is my Father’: Daughter of Jailed ‘Two-Faced’ Uyghur Official A screen shot of a video showing Memet Abdulla on trial in Urumqi in 2019.
Subhi Memet

Memet Abdulla, the former chief of the forestry bureau of China’s Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR), was detained by national security officers on April 29, 2017, shortly after the launch of a campaign of mass extralegal incarceration that has since seen up to 1.8 million Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities held in a vast network of internment camps in the region. Abdulla is one of the highest-ranking officials whose detention and subsequent arrest in the campaign have been confirmed. Last year, RFA’s Uyghur Service confirmed details of his disappearance and sentencing to life in prison last year for being “two-faced”—a term regularly used by authorities to refer to Uyghur cadres who they say pay lip service to Communist Party rule in the XUAR, but secretly chafe against state repression of members of their ethnic group.

Abdulla’s U.S.-based daughter Subhi Memet recently told RFA that her father was detained the very day he was set to visit her and her brother, along with their families. Since then, she has been unable to obtain information about her father’s situation and only recently was allowed to speak to her mother and sister, who both remain in the XUAR. In an interview, she said she found herself unable to believe her mother’s claims that her father was still alive when they first spoke on the phone after many months of silence.

After Memet began testifying about her father in the international press last year, Chinese officials and state media accused her of lying and denied her claim that her father had been detained and arrested for being “two-faced.” An official statement says Abdulla was sentenced for “bribery and embezzlement.” Recently, Memet saw a video of her father shackled and chained to a chair in what appears to be a courtroom. It was her first sight of him in years. In her interview with RFA, she called on anyone with disappeared family members to break their silence and speak out about their loved ones.

Memet: In October 2020, out of the blue my sister got a phone call from a number she didn’t recognize. She took the call, and it was my father’s voice. My father said they were holding him in Cell 11 of the No. 3 prison. She and my mother [who remain in the XUAR] weren’t able to ask about how he was doing on the phone. My mother told me she had heard my father’s voice, that he was alive, but I found I couldn’t believe her. I couldn’t believe what my own mother was saying. She said that they were going to let her see him six months later. On April 29, 2021—in other words, four years after they detained my father—they allowed my parents to see one another via video chat.

In April 2020, Voice of America did a video interview with me. After the video came out, in June of 2020, the Global Times said that I was spreading fake news, that I fabricated falsehoods when I said my father’s “crime” was being “two-faced” and a “splittist,” and that they had arrested him for the crime of bribery. They took my father away via the public security bureau. They never took him for investigation. There was never any talk of an investigation, and I heard nothing about “bribery.” … They have claimed that we, their children, are lying in order to discredit the work that we are doing internationally, in order to claim that we’re fooling people and to [try to] put an end to the cause that we’re working for. Governments around the world already know that the Chinese government is a straight-up liar, so we will not turn back, and we will continue moving forward.

Iskender Memet (L) and his father, Memet Abdulla (R), at the White House in Washington, in an undated photo. Iskender Memet

‘My heart was shattered’

My heart was shattered when I saw the pillar of our family wearing the clothing of a prisoner, when I saw him older in age, close to 80 years old, his feet chained up. No child wants to see such a sight of their own father in such a state of abuse. I will never be able to get this sight out of my mind. My father has liver problems and high blood pressure. He also has diabetes. How can a nearly 80-year-old person live well in a dark, cold prison? Does giving a life sentence to someone so old not show how cruel and bloodthirsty the Chinese government is, its lack of justice? 

What I’ve felt, based on my own experience, is that we can never be silent. The longer we stay silent, they will continue to oppress us such that, ultimately, it is still us who will be hurt. The longer we stay silent, the more they oppress us … Our staying silent is the greatest harm we could do to our parents and our relatives.

Reported by Nuriman for RFA’s Uyghur Service. Translated by the Uyghur Service. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.

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