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Answers for Alim Abdukerim case revealed after three months

After his niece Nefise Oghuz posted videos calling on China to release him, Beijing explains why he is in prison.

By Shöhret Hoshur for RFA Uyghur

December 5, 2023

About three months after ethnic Uyghur Nefise Oghuz posted videos in four languages on social media that called on the Chinese government to release her uncle Alim Abdukerim, her family finally got some answers.

Nefise, 20, who lives in Turkey, took to social media in April, where she shared video of herself holding a portrait of her uncle and speaking about his case and what she called genocide of Uyghurs in western China. She spoke in Uyghur, English, Mandarin and Turkish.

Police in Urumqi, capital of western China’s Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, arrested her uncle, Alim Abdukerim at his home on Aug. 28, 2017. He is now 33.

It was not clear why he was arrested, but in that year Beijing had begun a large-scale crackdown, arbitrarily detaining Uyghur businesspeople, writers, artists, athletes and Muslim clergy members into “re-education” camps. 

China has claimed that the camps were vocation training centers set up to prevent religious extremism and terrorism in the mostly Muslim region. But those who survived the camps say Uyghurs there were subjected to torture, sexual assault and forced labor.

Abdukerim’s family did not know his whereabouts for two years, though Oghuz later obtained information that he was in prison in Korla, known as Ku’erle in Chinese and the second-largest city in Xinjiang, two years after he was taken away.

Bits of information

In mid-July, the Chinese government finally responded to queries from Oghuz.

“The Chinese government responded back to my email. They wrote that they will contact me. Then they called me,” she said. "During the phone call … we asked why he is in prison, and how long he has been in prison. They said they will get back to us and were nice in the beginning.”

She said that they called every day asking for updates.

“The person from the consulate also said someone was sent to Urumqi to get an update but there was no news. We waited for about 3 months.”

According to Oghuz, after three months, a consular official told Oghuz over the phone that Alim Abdukérim was serving a sentence in prison and hung up the phone, telling her not to contact them again. The official vaguely stated that he had been sentenced to more than 10 years and did not provide any information on the reason for his arrest.

RFA contacted the Bahuliang Police Station in Urumqi, which had handled Alim Abdukérim’s arrest for clarification but an officer there stressed that the case is a sensitive one and refused to give any information about it.

Oghuz also learned from sources with knowledge of the situation that Alim Abdukérim was serving a sentence in Korla prison and was sentenced to 17 years for endangering national security. Those sources said that after Nefise disclosed the situation to the international media, her relatives in her hometown Peyziwat Misha were interrogated by local police officers and faced some trouble.

RFA contacted Misha police station in Peyziwat for more clarification. An officer there explained that Abdukérim was sentenced for “having relations with illegal religious figures.”

Another officer connected to the case told RFA a slightly different story, that Alim Abdukérim was about 25 or 26 years old and had different reasons for sentencing.

“He watched illegal content,” the other officer said. “Other reasons for the verdict are that he also contacted on the phone with problematic people, such as his relatives in Turkey. Even if the relatives in Turkey are not involved in anything, it can still be a factor.”

Oghuz said she doubted the stated reasons for arrest and sentencing.

“We all know that it never means that he actually committed a crime or did something wrong worth the arrest,” she said, adding that China often conceals the real reason for arresting Uyghurs. 

“The genocide,” she said. “Everyone is arrested for such reasons by the Chinese government. Therefore, we will do anything for the freedom of my uncle.”

Translated by Alim Seytoff. Edited by Eugene Whong and Malcolm Foster. 



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