As was typical in other countries during pandemic, families are denied ritual burials for loved ones.
By Shohret Hoshur for RFA Uyghur
November 2, 2022
A sign is taped to the sealed door of a house in northwestern China's Xinjiang region amid an outbreak of the coronavirus in August 2022. It reads, 'Monitored in the residence. Entry and exit will be prohibited.'
Authorities in Xinjiang collected the bodies of Uyghur residents in the northeastern city of Ghulja who died during a strict coronavirus lockdown but did not inform the families of the deceased about whether they handled their remains according to Islamic burial rituals, Uyghurs with knowledge of the situation and local officials said.
Ghulja, known as Yining in Chinese, has been under lockdown since early August due to outbreaks of the COVID-19 virus, in some cases leading to deaths from starvation or lack of access to medicine in the city of roughly a half-million mainly Uyghurs and other Turkic Muslims, RFA reported earlier.
About 90 people died in Ghulja during the lockdown, according to a member of the city’s coronavirus pandemic working group.
Though authorities rescinded the strict coronavirus lockdown there in late September, Uyghurs in Xinjiang’s third-largest city said in a previous RFA report that the lack of Uyghur-language emergency services also had contributed to the number of deaths.
Chinese authorities arranged for special staff to collect the bodies of the deceased, though they did not allow their families to bury them in accordance with Uyghur customs and religious rituals, people with knowledge of the situation said. Authorities did not allow relatives of the deceased to wash their bodies before burial.
“After someone dies, washing his body and burying it properly has been the Uyghur people’s custom since we accepted Islam,” said Turghunjan Alawudun, a vice chairman of the executive committee of the World Uyghur Congress.
While Alawudun said that China’s decision to deny families the chance to perform religious rituals was “proof that China is continuing its genocidal policy” toward the Uyghurs, authorities in many countries have also had to take similar steps, and deny families the chance for religious death rituals.
Still, family members mourned that they were unable to do so.
Nabijan Ala, a Uyghur living in Sweden, told RFA that his uncle, Ablimit Zunun, who lived in eastern Ghulja, fell ill in mid-September during the lockdown and died on Oct. 1 because he could not go to a hospital.
“He could not get permission to get medical treatment because the authorities blocked all communities and did not let anyone move from one block to another,” he said.
The authorities took away his uncle’s body after he died, and up to now, no government agency has informed the grieving family about how his corpse was handled, Ala said.
“According to the information we obtained, the authorities there collected the bodies of the deceased systematically but did not reveal how they treated those dead bodies,” he said. “The Chinese did not say anything about his body.”
A staffer on Ghulja’s coronavirus pandemic aid working group told RFA that only the local Public Security Bureau had information about what authorities did with the bodies, which are still being collected.
Authorities have been collecting the bodies of deceased Uyghurs in other areas of Xinjiang without informing their relatives how the corpses will be handled.
A staffer at a neighborhood committee in Kashgar Yengisheher county told RFA that police took the body of 27-year-old Alimjan Abdurishit, who died from a combination of illness and starvation during the lockdown there, 40 days after his release from prison. He had served five years in prison for participating in “illegal religious activities.”
“The police have been involved in this from the beginning to the end,” said the staffer, adding that they did not tell the youth’s family what they would do with his corpse.
Translated by RFA Uyghur. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.