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Uyghur man dies in Xinjiang internment camp after sacking over Muslim prayers

The Muslim Faithful at Id Kah Mosque in Xinjiang, China. (Preston Rhea/Flickr)
July 16, 2019

This article was originally published by Radio Free Asia and is reprinted with permission.

A young Uyghur man from Kashgar (in Chinese, Kashi) prefecture, in northwest China’s Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR), has died in an internment camp after being fired from his job because of his Muslim faith, according to sources.

An anonymous source recently sent a letter to RFA’s Uyghur Service claiming that Alimjan Emet, 22, was beaten to death while being interrogated at a camp in Kashgar’s Yengisheher (Shule) county because he had denied praying in secret—an allegation that had earlier led to his removal as an employee at a loan office in his home township of Ermudan.

According to the source, Emet was the son of academics but, after completing high school, failed to gain acceptance to a university and grew depressed. He was able to lift his depression after embracing his Islamic faith, by reading religious texts and listening to spiritual teachings.

“I don’t know the reason he was detained, only that he died within 40 days of being sent to the camp,” the letter said, adding that Emet had been arrested while working as a security guard at the Yengisheher County Party School, where he had been employed since being fired from the Ermudan loan office.

A staff member who answered the phone at the loan office told RFA that Emet had never worked there, and that no employee was ever taken to an internment camp, where authorities are believed to have detained up to 1.5 million Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities accused of harboring “strong religious views” and “politically incorrect” ideas since April 2017.

But a second staff member, who said he started a job at the loan office last year, told RFA that he had “heard that a young man called Alimjan worked here in the past,” without providing further details.

However, when contacted by RFA, the female director of Women’s Affairs with the Yengisheher county government said that she knew of “a young man who died in an internment camp … [named] Alimjan Emet,” and confirmed that he was “22 or 23” years old.

“His [residency permit] was Ermudan township, and he lived behing Zhangquan Park,” said the director, who also declined to provide her name.

“He worked as a guard at the gate of the Yengisar County Party School.”

While she was able to confirm that Emet had been sent to an internment camp in Yengisar, she did not know which one.

“People said that he died within 40 days [of being sent to the camp],” she said, adding that his body had been returned to his family before being buried—under police supervision—in a graveyard behind Zhangquan Park.

“I heard that the police took preventive measures in guarding the area and assisting with the burial service,” she added.

The director said that Emet “didn’t appear to” suffer from any medical problems before he was detained at the internment camp, suggesting he had been in fine health.

A staff member of the Yengisheher County Party School told RFA that “we all know [Emet,” but said he “cannot provide information about him … to people that I don’t know.”

Camp treatment

Though Beijing initially denied the existence of internment camps, China has tried to change the discussion, 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.

A former police officer who worked at a camp in the XUAR told RFA earlier this year that detainees who secretly observe prayers routinely face “heavy punishment.”

“[Guards standing watch at camps] look out for anyone who is pretending to be resting, but is actually not,” he said at the time.

“[Sometimes they discreetly attempt to perform] Wudu, the act of washing, as if cleaning themselves in preparation for prayer. If we receive a report of such behavior, we review the camera footage and then the cadres interview the person … If [we determine that’s what they were doing], they are then handed over to the State Security Police.”

The former officer said that two people were caught performing wudu in cases that he was personally involved in.

Call for accountability

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 May, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, in an apparent reference to the policies of Hitler’s Germany and Stalin’s Soviet Union, cited “massive human rights violations in Xinjiang where over a million people are being held in a humanitarian crisis that is on the scale of what took place in the 1930s.”

U.S. Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom Sam Brownback recently told RFA in an interview that countries around the world must speak out on the Uyghur camps, or risk emboldening China and other authoritarian regimes.

The U.S. Congress has also joined in efforts to halt the incarcerations, debating legislation that seeks accountability for China’s harsh crackdown on the Uyghurs. The Uyghur Human Rights Policy Act would appoint a special State Department coordinator on Xinjiang and require regular reports on the camps, the surveillance network, and the security threats posed by the crackdown.

Reported by Shohret Hoshur for RFA’s Uyghur Service. Translated by RFA’s Uyghur Service. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.