A Uyghur trader, who went missing as he prepared to travel from northwest China’s Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR) to Turkey for business, died under mysterious circumstances in one of the region’s internment camps, according to sources.
Ibrahim Kurban, from Terim township in Kashgar (in Chinese, Kashi) prefecture’s Yopurgha (Yuepuhu) county, disappeared in May 2016 while awaiting a flight from the XUAR capital Urumqi that would eventually bring him to Turkey, a friend told RFA’s Uyghur Service on condition of anonymity.
Kurban’s attempted trip was a follow up to one he took to Turkey a month earlier, said the friend, a Uyghur who currently lives in exile in Istanbul.
While Kurban’s whereabouts were unknown for more than three years after his disappearance, the friend only recently learned that he was detained in Urumqi by Emet Obul, the deputy chief of the Yopurgha county Public Security Bureau.
Kurban was sent to one of the region’s vast network of internment camps, where authorities are believed to have held up to 1.5 million Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities accused of harboring “strong religious views” and “politically incorrect” ideas since April 2017.
It was not immediately clear why Kurban had been targeted for detention, in part due to severe restrictions on the flow of information in and out of the region, but Turkey is one of several countries blacklisted by authorities for travel by Uyghurs due to the perceived threat of religious extremism.
While investigating Kurban’s case, RFA spoke with an officer at the Yopurgha County Police Department, who confirmed that the businessman had died in detention, but said he was unaware of the circumstances.
“That’s an incident that occurred a long time ago,” said the officer, who declined to provide his name.
But another officer at the same department provided a few more details about Kurban’s death.
“We heard that he died in detention while undergoing reeducation, but we weren’t given the details,” he said.
“I heard more about it from sources outside our department. I asked the reason for his death and was told he was detained and interrogated, and that he later died, but torture was not mentioned … We were also told he became sick and was taken to the hospital, and died under police supervision.”
The officer said he was never given details about the reason for Kurban’s detention.
While Beijing once denied the existence of the 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.
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.
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo last month singled out China as one of the worst perpetrators of abuse against people of faith, particularly in the XUAR.
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. has 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.