A Uyghur teenager is facing a 20-year jail term after he was convicted of plotting to join a militant separatist group and conspiring to help some of his friends escape from China, RFA’s Uyghur Service has learned.
Abduraxman Rozi, 17, was sentenced by a court in Aksu (in Chinese, Akesu) prefecture over what authorities say was a plan he masterminded to join an East Turkestan separatist group and to help four other people illegally leave China.
Four other boys were also detained for attempting to leave the country. A 17-year-old and an 18-year-old were both sentenced to nine-year terms, while two others were set free, according to authorities.
East Turkestan is one of the names Uyghur separatists and their supporters use for a hoped-for future independent state in the present-day Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region.
The restive Xinjiang region was briefly declared independent East Turkestan in 1949, but the move was short-lived as it was absorbed by Communist China later that year under the guise of “peaceful liberation.” Since then, the government has suppressed activists and demonstrations advocating independence.
While authorities think Abduraxman Rozi was attempting to become a rebel, his family says he was just looking for work.
“My son may have planned to go abroad when he saw that some Uyghurs went abroad, but I don’t believe he had any political or religious intent in his plan,” his father Rozi Abliz told RFA. “He went to Kunming just looking for a job, and that is why he may have been interested in going to another country, just seeking a better life.”
Tursun Awut, security chief for No.17 Village of Aykol Township, confirmed to RFA that the boys had been detained, and said the detention of Abduraxman Rozi’s friends was based on his confession.
Abduraxman Rozi may have first attracted the attention of authorities when he worked as a baker in Kunming, the site of a vicious attack by knife-wielding assailants that killed 29 civilians and four of the perpetrators and injured more than 140 others.
While no group or individual stepped forward to claim responsibility for the attack, Chinese media accused Xinjiang separatist terrorists of carrying it out. A woman was sentenced to life in prison and two men were executed for participating in the 2014 attack.
Rozi Abliz said his son was only looking to better himself in Kunming.
“He has not taken any of the steps he is accused of,” he said. “He was not captured at the border or on the way to the border. He was captured in my house after he returned from Kunming by following orders of the authorities.”
Tursun Awut told RFA that Abduraxman Rozi was deported from Kunming in mid-March and had been living normally in his hometown until June when he was apprehended under a so-called “strike hard” campaign.
After a deadly suicide bombing in May 2014 in Xinjiang’s regional capital Urumqi, Chinese authorities, who blamed the attack on Uyghur separatists, rolled out the campaign to crack down on members of the Turkic-speaking, Muslim minority group.
The campaign includes 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.
China has vowed to crack down on the "three evils" of terrorism, separatism, and religious extremism in the Xinjiang where most Uyghurs live, but experts outside China say Beijing has exaggerated the threat from Uyghur "separatists" and that domestic policies are responsible for an upsurge in violence there that has left hundreds dead since 2012.
Abduraxman Rozi is not involved in those evils, and the charges against him make no sense, his father says.
“The court materials stated that my son went to Kunming with the intent to illegally cross the border, but whatever my son had thought or planned, he has not crossed the border yet, so how can he be punished for a crime he has not committed?” Rozi Abliz said.
“The court material also stated that my son has met with smugglers to get a fake passport. If that is true, it was not my son’s choice. Why is the government not allowing him to get passport by legal ways?” he added.
Rozi Abliz also questioned the reasoning that put his son and two friends in jail but allowed two other friends to go free.
“The released boys’ parents grumbled at us by saying: 'We lost 50-60 thousand yuan ($7,600-$9,200) over your son’s false statement,'” he said. “I am assuming that their children have been released because they gave a bribe to the authorities.”
A bribe is impossible for him, and he is desperate, he said.
“We have only one child. We have no money. We have no land. We have no job,” he said. “We just expected our son could do something for his future. Now he won't be able to for decades. We have no assets that make it worth living in this world without him, so my wife and I ready to take any risk to get our son released.”
RFA reached the father of Mutellep Mamut, one of the boys who was also sentenced to a jail term, but he declined to comment, while the father of the third boy sentenced, Abdusalam Eziz, gave a cryptic answer to RFA’ s questions. He implied that there are people in the restive township who don’t know the fate of their children.
“I am a lucky father,” he said. “I only have one child jailed in my family, and I know his jail term and his jail location.”
A teacher in Aksu, who spoke on condition of anonymity, told RFA the cases of Abduraxman Rozi and his friends are common.
“There are thousands of people like him in Aksu. I am wondering how the authorities can create a harmonious society with this generation,” the teacher said. “It is very clear that the government is choosing the wrong way to establish stability in Xinjiang.”
Reported and translated by Shohret Hoshur for RFA's Uyghur Service. Written in English by Brooks Boliek.