An ethnic Uzbek who was detained in northwest China’s Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR) in 2018 and whose case was the subject of a recent United Nations inquiry was sentenced to 15 years in prison last month, according to official sources.
Aezimet Enver was detained in April 2018 after returning from Turkey the previous year, allegedly for having studied in the nation—one of several blacklisted by Chinese officials for Uyghurs to travel to, citing the threat of alleged religious extremism.
Enver’s father, Enver Tursun, who was the owner of the Taksim shopping mall in Ghulja (in Chinese, Yining) city, was detained three months earlier, reportedly for having traveled to Turkey to visit him.
Late last year, their relatives living in exile in several Western countries began giving public testimonies on their behalf, leading London-based legal group Justice Abroad to present their case to the United Nations.
In March, according to Justice Abroad’s website, the U.N.’s Working Group on Enforced and Involuntary Disappearances (UNWGEID) confirmed that it had transmitted the details of the men’s cases to the Chinese government, saying it hoped that “appropriate investigations would be carried out in order to clarify the fate and whereabouts of the aforementioned individuals and to protect their rights.”
In the meantime, Enver’s relatives abroad recently told RFA’s Uyghur Service they had learned he was sentenced to 15 years in prison in a trial held in Suydung (Shuiding) township, in Ili Kazakh (Yili Hasake) Autonomous Prefecture’s Qorghas (Huocheng) county.
Enver’s mother and sister were reportedly present at the trial, which sources said took place without providing him the right to legal representation. Repeated attempts by family members to obtain written documentation of his case or sentencing have been rebuffed by authorities.
Minawwar Tursunhoja, Enver’s aunt in Edmonton, Canada, told RFA she had received news from an “informed source” that he was “taken to trial at an Ili prefectural court and sentenced to 15 years.”
“We only know that they handed down a verdict [but not whether he’s already in prison],” she said.
“The fact that he studied at a university in Turkey was used as the basis for his trial.”
Tursunhoja said the family had vowed to “set up tents and camp outside the offices of the U.N. in Geneva” to demand justice for her nephew if the U.N. inquiry failed to yield results.
A Han Chinese employee of the Qorghas County Court told RFA that he was unable to discuss Enver’s case on the phone.
“There aren’t any—it’s over,” he said, when asked whether he could locate the documentation of Enver’s trial. When asked whether a spokesperson for the court could elaborate further, the employee became irate and hung up the phone.
A Uyghur staffer at the Ghulja city Public Security Bureau (PSB) told RFA she did not know anything about Enver’s case, but a Han Chinese employee who took the phone from her said that without a way to verify the reporter’s identity, her office “can’t reveal things like this over the phone.”
RFA also spoke with a Uyghur employee at the police station in Enver’s home district of Yengi Hayat in Ghulja city who said that he had been tried in May along with four other people: Salayiddin Zaman, Abdurahman Qeyyum, Faruk Sultan, and Abduwakil Seyit.
Additionally, RFA contacted the Yengi Hayat Community Office, where staffers filled in additional details about Enver’s trial.
One Uyghur employee of the office said that while the proceedings had been held jointly, the cases of the five were unrelated and they were tried and sentenced “separately.”
Another Uyghur employee confirmed that Enver was handed 15 years, while at least two of the others were sentenced to 18 and 20 years.
“Apparently, they all ‘studied,’” she said, implying there was some illegal element to the education they received.
She was unable two say what it was that the five had studied but claimed that the other four besides Enver had not traveled abroad.
Enver’s relatives said that during his years in Turkey he was careful not to take part in any political activism lest he cause difficulties for his family members back home.
However, his silence was not enough to ensure their safety or his. In addition to his father’s imprisonment awaiting sentencing, his mother Mukaddas was reportedly detained for one year in one of the XUAR’s vast network of some 1,300 internment camps, where authorities are believed to have held up to 1.8 million Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities since April 2017.
Michael Polak, an attorney with Justice Abroad, told RFA that Enver’s case appears to confirm recent reports of “Uyghurs being arrested on spurious grounds, having committed no crime, and then being sentenced to very long, harsh prison sentences.”
He noted that reports suggest that in some cases, Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities have been “forced to choose what offenses they were guilty of, in an attempt by the Chinese authorities to legitimize these lengthy sentences.”
“They’re being given as part of the systematic oppression of the Uyghur people and other [Turkic] people,” he said.
Polak, who sent Enver’s case material to the U.N.’s Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, said that the Chinese government has yet to respond to the group’s request for information on his situation.
“It’s very important that the world continues to place pressure on the Chinese authorities about what is happening in Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous area,” he said.
“[Enver and Tursun] need to be back with their family ... not part of some sham system detaining them for long periods when they should be at home with their families ... So, we will continue to push for the release of Ezimet Enver and Enver Tursun so they can return to what they were doing before.”
Reported by Shohret Hoshur for RFA’s Uyghur Service. Translated by Elise Anderson. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.