A Uyghur former detainee of an internment camp in northwest China’s Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR) has been unable to get treatment for a serious medical issue because breaking an ongoing quarantine for the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) could see him sent back to the camps, officials said.
Recent reporting by RFA’s Uyghur Service has found that many residents of the XUAR have been left without adequate food and supplies amid quarantines enforced by local officials to stop the spread of COVID-19 in the region, which as of Wednesday has seen 76 infections that have led to two deaths.
In certain areas of the XUAR, such as the city of Atush (in Chinese, Atushi) in Kizilsu Kirghiz (Kezileisu Keerkezi) Autonomous Prefecture, residents found to have left their homes without permission during quarantine face the threat of 15 days detention in the region’s network of internment camps, where as many as 1.8 million Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities accused of harboring “strong religious views” and “politically incorrect” ideas are believed to have been held since April 2017.
While investigating the impact of a quarantine in Kashgar (Kashi) prefecture’s Peyziwat (Jiashi) county, RFA spoke with several officials who refused to comment, citing issues related to public security.
But a Communist Party cadre in Peyziwat’s Shaptul township told RFA on Feb. 17 that area roads had been closed off and local officials have been too busy to bring supplies to families confined to their homes as part of the quarantine there, which went into effect on Jan. 23.
The cadre, who spoke to RFA on condition of anonymity, said that a Uyghur former detainee from the area named Abliz Niyaz was facing serious health problems because authorities had been unable to bring him medicine to treat a growth on his neck, and that he dare not leave his house to seek treatment because he feared being sent back to the camps for breaking quarantine.
Niyaz, a farmer in his mid-40s, had served a 10-and-a-half year sentence in a prison in nearby Yarkand (Shache) county, and later was detained in an internment camp in Peyziwat “for being a former convict,” the cadre said.
After 30 months in the camp, he was released in November to seek medical care for an undisclosed illness, she added.
“Two different growths showed up around his neck and they had to operate on him,” the cadre said.
“They took him to the [county] hospital … directly [from the camp] … because he was sick.”
The cadre said that ever since the roads were closed off in Shaptul, “it’s become very inconvenient,” and confirmed that, as of Feb. 17, Niyaz had been unable to get medicine for at least one week and treatment for at least 25 days.
“[His doctors] said that whatever happened, even if he had to go to a different hospital, he needed to have regular checkups,” she said.
When asked why officials from the township haven’t worked to provide care and supplies to people like Niyaz, the cadre said, “we haven’t done anything because we have so much to do and the roads are closed,” adding that, “when the roads open up, we’ll do whatever we can.”
In the meantime, she said, authorities are telling residents to listen to local officials regarding the quarantine, “and that if they don’t, the village officials will take them to internment, or that we’ll report them to the neighborhood committee, and so on.”
A second official from the township, who also declined to be named, confirmed to RFA that Niyaz is suffering from health issues, but has not received help.
“The growth is getting bigger from one day to the next—he can’t sleep and has headaches,” the official said, adding that the operation he had was unable to remove all of it.
While Niyaz is able to eat, he is unable to walk or speak, and cannot work, he said.
“He can’t sleep because he has headaches,” the official said.
“The [tumor] is terrifying just to see … it’s a bit bigger than a walnut.”
Sources told RFA that while the growth on his neck is growing larger daily, Niyaz refuses to leave his home, saying he fears being stopped on the way to Peyziwat County Hospital for his treatments.
Reports of residents in Peyziwat lacking access to supplies came a week after a video went viral on social media among ethnic Uyghurs in exile that purportedly showed a man yelling in the streets of Ili Kazakh (Yili Hasake) Autonomous Prefecture’s Ghulja (in Chinese, Yining) city—presumably at local officials—about how he, his wife, and his child are “starving” because they have no food.
Days later, RFA’s Uyghur Service spoke with a Uyghur woman in the city who confirmed that her family of four children and three adults living in the city’s Qaradong township has been unable to obtain enough food because of the quarantine.
The woman said that authorities have been either reluctant to help those confined to their homes, or only willing to assist if they are paid for goods in advance, but that she was reluctant to report her family’s situation to neighborhood officials because she feared being exploited for money.
Weli, the party secretary of Qaradong’s Huaguoshan residential district, acknowledged to RFA that “there are people who are complaining about a lack of food,” but suggested that they were blowing things out of proportion because they are “ill-intentioned.”
On Wednesday,the Uyghur Human Rights Project (UHRP) exile group issued a statement saying it is “deeply concerned by alarming new evidence that local residents are starving across the Uyghur homeland,” citing the video and other posts to Uyghur language social media it said had provided evidence that people are going hungry amid the month-long COVID-19 lockdown.
UHRP noted that new reports suggest residents across the XUAR were given no prior notice of the quarantine before suddenly being ordered to stay inside their homes on and around Jan. 24, while “harshly enforced restrictions have made it nearly impossible for residents to procure food, as well as medicine and other supplies.”
Authorities have remained tight-lipped about the epidemic in the XUAR, where as many as 1.8 million Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities accused of harboring “strong religious views” and “politically incorrect” ideas are believed to have been detained in a vast network of internment camps since April 2017.
Reporting by RFA and other media outlets indicate 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 that experts warned recently could lead to an epidemic.
A lack of transparency on the part of officials has been blamed for allowing the coronavirus to gain a solid foothold in Wuhan, leading authorities to shut down the city in January.
Reported by Shohret Hoshur for RFA’s Uyghur Service. Translated by Elise Anderson. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.