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Missing Uyghur detainee confirmed jailed for Islamic studies 11 years ago

Ebuzer Abbas avoided arrest at the time because he was a minor, officials said.

By Shohret Hoshur

January 11, 2024

A Uyghur crane operator who had once been arrested for pursuing Islamic studies at a madrasa in Xinjiang’s Ili Kazakh Autonomous Prefecture is now in jail after he was suddenly detained again in May, RFA Uyghur has learned.

Ebuzer Abbas, 24, was arrested at his home in the county-level city of Ghulja’s Kepekyuzi Ara Mehelle district, according to his cousin, Nureli Nuraxun, a resident of Turkey who works as an engineer in an aluminum factory.

In the months since, authorities provided no information on his whereabouts or the reason for his arrest, Abbas told RFA in a telephone interview last month, during which he related information about his own father’s jailing.

“There has been no news about him,” he said at the time. “He wasn’t involved in any sensitive activities and so he wasn’t arrested during the 2017 mass detentions.”

Beginning in April 2017, Chinese authorities in Xinjiang began detaining Uyghurs in a vast network of internment camps under the pretext of providing vocational training to prevent religious extremism and terrorism.

Abbas said that his cousin’s family members had visited the local police station in the weeks after his detention to inquire about his whereabouts, but were told “there was no information available.”

“There is no clear reason for his arrest,” he said.

As part of an investigation into Abbas’s status, RFA recently contacted an officer at the Kepekyuzi Ara Mehelle District Police Department to inquire about a list of people who had been detained in the area in recent months.

“We arrested individuals including Esmitulla and Ebuzer,” said the officer, who declined to be named for this report as she was unauthorized to speak with the media. “There was someone named Omerjan from the Ara Mehelle village, and Abdughapar is another one – they were arrested around April … and Ebuzer in May.”

The officer said she was uncertain of the whereabouts of the detainees as “they were taken to a different location.”

However, an official from Kepekyuzi, who also declined to be named, told RFA that Abbas was suspected of “attempting to divide the country” due to his involvement in “illegal religious activities.”

The official said in a phone interview that the classification of these religious activities as “illegal” stemmed from his attendance at a madrasa, or school for Islamic studies, in a community mosque 11 years earlier, at the age of 13.

Arresting former minors

Confidential documents hacked from Xinjiang police computers known as the Xinjiang Police Files indicate that authorities arrested numerous individuals for learning to read the Quran from their family members 10 to 20 years ago.

The files, which contain the personal records of some 830,000 individuals, were obtained by a third party and published in May 2022. They provide inside information on Beijing’s internment of up to 2 million Uyghurs and other Turkic peoples in Xinjiang in 2017 and 2018 – the height of one of China’s “strike hard” campaigns.

The records are further evidence of Beijing’s human rights abuses in Xinjiang, which the Chinese government has repeatedly denied.

According to the official in Kepekyuzi, Abbas’s “illegal activities” were uncovered in 2017, but he wasn’t arrested at the time because he was still a minor.

The official said that Abbas was arrested last year along with other youths from the area during a police operation targeting “off-the-grid suspects.”

Another officer at the Kepekyuzi Ara Mehelle District Police Department confirmed to RFA that Abbas had been detained there before being transferred to the Jelilyuzi Prison in Ili county.

“He was taken from his home,” she said. “It’s been about seven months since police detained him.”

The officer also said that Abbas had been detained on suspicion of attempting to divide the country and claimed that his family had been informed of the arrest.

“We provided a written statement to his family about a month after his arrest,” she said. “I don’t have the document with me at the moment, but he was arrested due to his involvement in illegal religious activities … The incident took place 11 years ago.”

Investigation by RFA Uyghur found that more than 10 youths, including a young man named Zulyar Yasin, were arrested in the Xinjiang capital Urumqi for having previously studied in Turkey. The youths had not been targeted during the mass arrests of 2017 because they were under the age of 18 at the time.

However, a police officer at an internment camp in Kashgar’s prefecture’s Toqquzaq city recently disclosed that the facility housed individuals between the ages of 14 and 80, suggesting that beginning in 2017, officials in Xinjiang made determinations on who to arrest according to their own discretion, or disregarded age limits in order to satisfy detention quotas.

Translated by RFA Uyghur. Edited by Joshua Lipes and Matt Reed.



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