A jailed ethnic minority Uyghur blogger and activist will be brought to trial next month on unknown charges after being detained six months ago for collecting donations to run Uyghur schools in the troubled Xinjiang region, his family said.
Abduweli Ayup, a 39-year-old active promoter of the Uyghur language, was arrested in Kashgar city in August last year on the same day two of his business partners were taken into custody in the Xinjiang capital Urumqi.
Authorities have told Ayup’s relatives that the trio is being held in Urumqi, but have not provided any information on what charges they are facing, saying only at the time of the arrest that they had “illegally collected donations” to run Uyghur schools in the region.
Last week, they informed Ayup’s elder brother that his case, which had been returned to Kashgar last month for further investigation, is now ready to proceed to trial, the activist’s nephew Mirshat recently told RFA’s Uyghur Service.
“My elder uncle just informed us that my uncle Abduweli’s case will go to prosecution around March 10,” he said, adding that Ayup’s brother had spent more than a month in Urumqi trying to obtain information.
“After several months of investigation between Urumqi and Kashgar, his case has been returned to the police department in Urumqi’s Tianshan region. The police provided this information to my elder uncle [on Feb. 20].”
Mirshat said authorities informed his uncle that the family should find a lawyer for Ayup, but refused to say exactly when or where his trial would be held.
They also refused to provide information about the status of Ayup’s partners, Dilyar Obul and Muhemmet Sidik, or whether their cases would be tried alongside his.
“This is the first official information about my uncle Abduweli’s case we received since he was detained six months ago,” Mirshat said.
Mirshat said that despite information a family member had received in December suggesting Ayup was “seriously ill,” authorities assured his uncle that the activist’s health had improved.
“My elder uncle did not meet with his detained brother, but the authorities informed him that my uncle Abduweli’s health has already recovered and that he is in good condition,” he said.
Partner’s brother speaks
Meanwhile, a relative of Ayup’s partner, 39-year-old Muhemmet Sidik, expressed concern over his detention.
“[Sidik] had a dream to promote Uyghur language kindergartens and schools based on the rights provided by the Chinese constitution,” his elder brother Omerjan Bore said, speaking to RFA last week from exile in Canada.
Bore said that after his brother was appointed director of the Uyghur Mother Tongue Co. International, the business he founded with Ayup and Obul, the three had decided to establish a kindergarten in Urumqi’s Tianshan at a cost of 1.6 million yuan (U.S. $260,000).
He supplied several thousands of yuan of his own money, began campaigns selling local honey products and T-shirts bearing the logo “Ana Til” (Mother Tongue), and brought in outside investors.
“All of their activities and work plans only followed Chinese law and the rights of the autonomous region. Unfortunately, my brother and his two partners were detained by the authorities,” he said.
Bore said that his family members had heard nothing about Sidik’s situation since his detention, despite his father's repeated requests to the authorities to visit with him. All of the requests had been denied, he said.
“[According to law], family members must be informed about the detainee’s case within three months of a trial. Only in some special cases can the detainee be held in custody for up to six months through permission by the Supreme Court,” he said.
“Now, that time limit is already past … but our family still has not received any information about my brother’s case.”
Sidik, who had graduated with a mathematics degree from the University of Wuhan before working at the regional government tax agency and establishing his own business, has a wife and two daughters, aged five and seven.
Bore said that the family had been severely affected in his absence.
“I cannot imagine how my brother’s two kids spend their days without their father’s love,” he said.
“When I learned that my brother was arrested, my heart broke … Later, I was told that my mother had lost consciousness twice when she heard the news.”
Uyghur language activist
An active promoter of the Uyghur language despite Beijing’s policy enforcing the use of the Mandarin Chinese language in Xinjiang schools, Ayup and his associates established the Uyghur-language kindergarten in Kashgar during the summer of 2012.
Authorities said they closed down the school in March 2013 because it was operating “without complete documentation.”
Relatives said that Ayup and his partners made repeated attempts between September 2012 and August 2013 to open a school in Urumqi but were refused permission to operate the Nurkhan Mother Tongue School from various governmental departments at both the municipal and regional levels.
In the meantime, Ayup and his colleagues published articles on various Uyghur websites soliciting public opinion on their school plans. According to information provided by the websites, some 500,000 visitors read their articles.
Beginning in 2013, Ayup’s relatives said that he and his colleagues had received numerous threats from authorities in Kashgar and Urumqi and were invited several times to “drink tea”—a common euphemism for what is effectively an interrogation session—by the police.
But they said that the three men refused to abandon their dream of opening the Uyghur-language kindergarten, which they asserted was their right under China’s education laws.
Reported by Eset Sulaiman for RFA’s Uyghur Service. Translated by Eset Sulaiman. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.