Abduqeyum Semet, a medical doctor who carried the torch, is serving an 18-year jail term, sources say.
By Shohret Hoshur
Uyghur physician Abduqeyum Semet in 2013.
Photo courtesy of Abduweli Ayup
A Uyghur who served as a torchbearer in the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing and was a medical doctor is serving an 18-year jail sentence, caught in a wider crackdown on the ethnic minority group, Uyghurs living in exile and officials in northwestern China’s Xinjiang region said.
Abduqeyum Semet was deputy director of Kashgar Kirembagh Hospital and later promoted to director of the Health Department of Kashgar (in Chinese, Kashi) prefecture.
Abduweli Ayup, a Uyghur activist and linguist, originally from Kashgar but now residing in Norway, said he confirmed in 2019 through other Uyghurs living in exile that Abduqeyum had been detained, received a lengthy prison sentence, and was serving his term in a detention center administered by the Xinjiang Production and Construction Corps (XPCC).
The XPCC, also known as Bingtuan, a state-owned economic and paramilitary organization sanctioned by the U.S. government for its alleged involvement in human rights violations against Uyghurs.
Abduweli, founder of the Uyghuryar Foundation, a Uyghur advocacy and aid organization also known as Uyghur Hjelp in Norwegian, has included Abduqeyum as a disappeared “Uyghur intellectual” on a list of detained Uyghurs he maintains. He says Abduqeyum is one of eight torchbearers from the 2008 Games that is now detained.
“He was a skilled cardiac surgeon. He was a highly revered doctor in Kashgar among the whole community,” Abduweli said.
When RFA called Kashgar Kirembagh Hospital, a staff member said that no one named Abduqeyum Semet worked there. The person said he only recently began working at the hospital and did not know if Abduqeyum had been employed there in the past. Other hospital employees said that they did not know the physician.
A court official in Kashgar contacted by RFA said that Abduqeyum had been imprisoned since 2018.
“It’s been four years,” he said.
Another employee at the same court said that Abduqeyum was arrested in early 2018 for refusing to follow Chinese government directives and that he was criticized by different government bureaus in Kashgar.
Government officials issued papers on Abduqeyum so others could learn a lesson from his “bad example,” he said.
“It was said that the reason for his arrest was that he was not following Chinese government directives, which means he was not active in implementing government directives and policies,” the court official said.
He also said that court officials were aware that Abduqeyum had been moved to the prison administered by the XPCC.
RFA also contacted Chinese government officials who work with the judicial office in Kashgar, but they declined to provide information on Abduqeyum’s prison term or in which detention facility he is now being held. One of them said the doctor had been moved from an internment camp to a prison run by the Bingtuan.
Abduqeyum was a graduate of Xinjiang Medical University and later became a revered doctor in his community, Abduweli said.
A Chinese media report said the physician was director of the Health Department of Kashgar prefecture. Another Uyghur who now lives in exile and who knew Abduqeyum told RFA that the doctor received the promotion after he served as an Olympic torchbearer.
The Uyghur, who requested anonymity so he could speak freely, said Abduqeyum kept his position as chief surgeon of medical operations at Kashgar Kirembagh Hospital following his promotion.
Uyghur activists in exile say that Chinese authorities seek to portray members of the Muslim minority group as happy, dancing “model Uyghurs” in arts and sports to cover up the repression the community faces in China.
At least eight Uyghur torchbearers from the 2008 Beijing Olympics are in prison in Xinjiang, including Abduqeyum and Adil Abdurehim, a former Chinese government official who is serving a 14-year jail sentence for watching counter-revolutionary videos, according to an earlier RFA report.
The other six imprisoned in recent years are Patigul Kadir, Alimjan Mehmut, Yasinjan Awut, Jumehun Memet, Nureli Memet, and Abdureshid Memet, according to a list compiled by Abduweli.
The Chinese government stepped up its repression of Uyghurs in 2017, arresting and detaining prominent people in Uyghur business and society as well as intellectuals and educators.
China is believed to have held 1.8 million Uyghurs and other Turkic minorities in a network of detention camps in Xinjiang since 2017. Beijing has said that the camps are vocational training centers and has denied widespread and documented allegations that it has mistreated Muslims living in the region.
Translated by RFA’s Uyghur Service. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.