A police chief in northwest China’s Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR) has been detained for expressing concerns over the mass detention, and possible deaths, of fellow Uyghurs in internment camps in his township, according to sources from the area.
Himit Qari, the chief of Ucha township, in Aksu (in Chinese, Akesu) prefecture’s Kuchar (Kuche) county, was detained after criticizing policies that have seen up to 1.5 million Uyghurs and other Muslim ethnic minorities accused of harboring “strong religious views” and “politically incorrect” ideas held in internment camps since April 2017, while attending a gathering at a friend’s home early this year, a source from Kuchar told RFA’s Uyghur Service.
Weeks later, Qari, 45, was summoned by the Kuchar County Public Security Bureau’s disciplinary office for questioning, taken to a prison amid a further investigation into his case, and accused of “revealing state secrets,” said the source, who spoke to RFA on condition of anonymity.
According to the source, the police chief also indicated during the party that “many people died” at a camp in Ucha, where he had been responsible for a crackdown on the Uyghur population prior to 2017 and enforcing mass internment policies in the years after, although he did not provide details about the claims of deaths.
While investigating Qari’s case, RFA spoke with one officer on duty at the Ucha Township Police Department who said he was unfamiliar with the situation and referred further questions to his supervisor.
But a second officer at the same department confirmed that “we know about [Qari’s] case and were given a few details,” although he said he could not discuss it with reporters and suggested contacting the township’s police chief for more information.
An officer at the police department in neighboring Alakagha township also referred questions to his station’s chief, saying “we cannot randomly speak about these issues.”
When RFA contacted the Kuchar County Public Security Bureau, however, an officer said everyone at the office had been “diligently studying ‘police educational films’” and that “Himit Qari is one of the people featured in the films.”
“He is the political commissar of the Ucha Township Police Station—around 45 years old,” he said.
“He was detained because he expressed sympathy towards detainees who died in the camp,” he added, without providing further details.
While Beijing initially denied the existence of internment camps, China this year changed tack and began describing the facilities as “boarding schools” that provide vocational training for Uyghurs, discourage radicalization, and help protect the country from terrorism.
Reporting by RFA’s Uyghur Service and other media organizations, however, has shown that those in the camps are detained against their will and subjected to political indoctrination, routinely face rough treatment at the hands of their overseers, and endure poor diets and unhygienic conditions in the often overcrowded facilities.
RFA has not previously reported on deaths at internment camps in Kuchar county, however, in August last year, a staffer at the Kuchar county police department said that three camps housing most of the county’s detainees are located in the Yengisher district of the county seat—about 10 kilometers (six miles) from Kuchar city center.
“I believe it is more than 45,000 … [or] slightly less than 10 percent [of the population],” the staffer said at the time, when asked how many residents of Kuchar county were held in the camps.
That report came two months after a Han Chinese staff member at a crematorium in Kuchar county told RFA that the Aksu government was investing in “burial management centers” in the prefecture and had earmarked funding to expand the size of the facility where he was employed.
Among the ethnic minority corpses brought to his crematorium were those who had died in internment camps, he said at the time, adding that he and other staff members “have no right to get involved in these matters, and we have no knowledge of any details of the arrangements—only the officials know.”
Mass incarcerations in the XUAR, as well as other policies seen to violate the rights of Uyghurs and other Muslims, have led to increasing calls by the international community to hold Beijing accountable for its actions in the region.
In September, at an event on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly in New York, U.S. Deputy Secretary of State John J. Sullivan said that the U.N. had failed to hold China to account over its policies in the XUAR and should demand unfettered access to the region to investigate reports of the mass incarceration and other rights abuses against Uyghurs.
Reported by Shohret Hoshur for RFA’s Uyghur Service. Translated by Mamatjan Juma. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.