Uyghur Teenager Dies in Custody at Political Re-Education Camp

2018-03-14
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Police officers on duty in the vicinity of a center believed to be used for re-education in Xinjiang's Korla city, Nov. 2, 2017.
Police officers on duty in the vicinity of a center believed to be used for re-education in Xinjiang's Korla city, Nov. 2, 2017.
AP Photo

A teenage Uyghur boy detained for traveling overseas has died of unknown causes at a political “re-education camp” in Kashgar (in Chinese, Kashi) prefecture, in northwest China’s Xinjiang region, according to local authorities.

Police officers delivered the body of 17-year-old Yaqupjan Naman to his family in Yekshenbe Bazar township, in Kashgar’s Yopurgha (Yuepuhu) county, after the young man died last week, a source recently told RFA’s Uyghur Service, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Naman’s father, a locksmith named Naman Qari, was not provided with the cause of his son’s death and was forced to bury his body under police supervision, the source added.

In early 2016, at the age of 15, Naman visited Turkey as a tourist with his friends against his father’s wishes. Qari travelled to Turkey days later to bring him home, in a bid to avoid attracting any attention from authorities in Xinjiang, who view such trips overseas as suspicious and a sign of religious “extremism.”

Despite his quick return to China, police placed Naman on a blacklist and arrested him soon afterwards, sending him to one of the many re-education camps throughout Xinjiang where authorities detain Uyghurs accused of harbouring “strong religious beliefs” and “politically incorrect” thoughts.

Family members who ask for the whereabouts of detained loved ones and other members of the community who inquire about those who have been sent for re-education also face arrest for “harboring incorrect ideology,” as part of a bid by local authorities to prevent information about the camps from reaching the outside world.

A local ruling Chinese Communist Party cadre that answered a call to the Bayawat township police station said he wasn’t aware of the case and handed the phone to an officer, who hung up when asked which village Naman’s family lives in.

When RFA called back, another officer who answered the phone said “we don’t know,” when asked what the cause of Naman’s death was, and referred further questions to the chief of the central Public Security Bureau.

But an officer at the Chenren township police station confirmed in a phone call that the name of the 17-year-old who died in detention at a re-education camp was named “Yaqupjan … [from] No. 12 Village” in Yekshenbe Bazar.

The officer, who also declined to provide his name, said the policeman in charge of Naman’s case in No. 12 Village is named “Muradil,” adding that the young man had died “approximately 10 days ago,” without providing further details.

When asked how many people had died in re-education camps in the last month, the officer said he did not know.

Camp conditions

Since April last year, ethnic Uyghurs have been detained in re-education camps throughout Xinjiang, where members of the ethnic group have long complained of pervasive discrimination, religious repression, and cultural suppression under Chinese rule.

In January, the Uyghur Human Rights Project (UHRP) said it had learned of the death of prominent Uyghur Islamic scholar Muhammad Salih Hajim in Chinese police custody, some 40 days after he was detained in the Xinjiang regional capital Urumqi along with other relatives, though it was unclear if he was being held in a prison or a re-education camp at the time.

Earlier that month, sources told RFA that amid a campaign of arrests that had led to serious overcrowding in re-education camps, authorities in Xinjiang were neglecting the health of Uyghur inmates, causing them to develop medical conditions.

Since Xinjiang party chief Chen was appointed to his post in August 2016, he has initiated unprecedented repressive measures against the Uyghur people and ideological purges against so-called “two-faced” Uyghur officials—a term applied by the government to Uyghurs who do not willingly follow directives and exhibit signs of “disloyalty.”

China regularly conducts “strike hard” campaigns in Xinjiang, including police raids on Uyghur households, restrictions on Islamic practices, and curbs on the culture and language of the Uyghur people, including videos and other material.

While China blames some Uyghurs for "terrorist" attacks, experts outside China say Beijing has exaggerated the threat from the Uyghurs and that repressive domestic policies are responsible for an upsurge in violence there that has left hundreds dead since 2009.

Reported by Shohret Hoshur for RFA’s Uyghur Service. Translated by Alim Seytoff. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.

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