This article was originally published by Radio Free Asia and is reprinted with permission.
A young Uyghur man who authorities claimed had suffered a fatal heart attack while held in an internment camp in northwest China’s Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR) was in fact beaten to death by an inebriated police officer, according to sources.
Ghalipjan, 35, died on Aug. 21 last year while detained in Pichan (in Chinese, Shanshan) county, in the prefecture-level city of Turpan (Tulufan), at one of the XUAR’s vast network of internment camps, where authorities are believed to have held 1.5 million Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities accused of harboring “strong religious views” and “politically incorrect” ideas since April 2017.
According to a letter RFA’s Uyghur Service recently received from a source in the XUAR capital Urumqi, camp authorities informed Ghalipjan’s mother on the same day that he had suffered a myocardial infarction brought on by an undiagnosed heart condition at the camp, and said doctors were unable to resuscitate him when he was brought to a nearby hospital.
When relatives went to see Ghalipjan at the hospital, they found him with a defibrillator still attached to his chest, and authorities refused to allow them to inspect the rest of his body, the source said, on condition of anonymity.
Communist Party cadres from No. 1 village in Pichan’s Lamjin (Lianmuqin) township, where Ghalipjan lived with his wife and five-year-old child, oversaw the burial of the young man on the same night that he died, and inexplicably denied family members the right to wash his body according to Muslim funerary traditions, the letter said.
RFA called the head of the Bazarliq District Police Station, in Turpan city, who said that he had been ordered by his superiors not to “answer any questions from any organizations” outside of the government.
When asked whether he was aware of Ghalipjan’s death, he referred further questions to the operations center of the Turpan City Police Department. An officer at that location told RFA he was unfamiliar with Ghalipjan.
RFA also spoke with the resident of a private home in Lamjin township who, when asked whether “Ghalipjan, who died in an internment camp last year” was from his area, said that the young man was from the nearby Ayagh neighborhood, without providing further details.
The head of the Ayagh neighborhood committee, who declined to provide his name, confirmed that Ghalipjan had died “around August last year” and told RFA that he was killed by an officer “from the Labai Square Police Station” at the camp where he was held.
“He was beaten to death … [by] a police officer,” the committee chief said in a telephone interview.
“The officer came to work after drinking alcohol and beat him without any reason.”
When asked whether the officer was still working for the police, the committee chief told RFA that “he is in prison,” but said he did not know his identity, other than that he is an ethnic Han Chinese who was employed through Turpan’s “Re-education Through Labor” system and had been temporarily assigned to Ghalipjan’s camp.
While sources said that Ghalipjan was initially detained sometime in 2017, it was not immediately clear when or for what reason.
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.
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.