Authorities discharged the corpses in the run-up to an Islamic holiday in April.
By Shohret Hoshur for RFA Uyghur
July 10, 2023
A guard stands in a watchtower in Kashgar, Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, China, May 3, 2021.
Authorities at a prison in the Xinjiang region released the bodies of at least 26 Uyghur inmates before the Eid al-Fitr holiday in late April, police in various towns have told Radio Free Asia.
RFA contacted 10 police stations in Kashgar prefecture’s Maralbeshi county to confirm that authorities at Tumshuq Prison had released the bodies.
Five of the inmates were elderly and died of heart and lung diseases, while one other died of diabetes, sources said.
A Maralbeshi resident said many of them died of starvation because the inmates fasted in secret during Ramadan and couldn’t eat during breakfast or after sunset because of jail rules. Officials contacted by RFA did not comment on the matter.
In June, a source told RFA that authorities at the prison had released the bodies of dozens of individuals, including that of his brother, just before the Islamic holiday marking the end of the fasting month of Ramadan.
To obtain more information, RFA followed up by contacting police in the 10 towns, including speaking to officials in Sériqbuya, Awat and Chongqurchaq.
When RFA contacted the police station in Awat, a Maralbeshi market town, to inquire about the body distribution on the eve of Eid al-Fitr, one officer said he was aware of the distribution of 18 bodies of dead prisoners, but he declined to disclose any information regarding the identities or their respective family members.
“We have knowledge of the events and circumstances surrounding their deaths as they were under our supervision, but I am unable to share further information,” he said.
“I believe the overall count of deceased individuals amounts to 18,” he said. “However, I am unable to disclose their identities.”
The police officer did not say whether prison authorities took the bodies directly to family members of the decedents, to the police station, or to a mortuary.
RFA previously reported that other bodies were taken to a police station before being handed over to families. The process took place under the supervision of county, village, and people’s committee officials and police. Additionally, authorities monitored the families for several weeks.
Tumshuq Prison housed locals arbitrarily arrested during the 2017 crackdown on prominent and ordinary Uyghurs alike, jailing them in “re-education” camps and prisons for alleged extremist behavior, such as previous trips or contacts abroad or religious activities.
China has come under harsh international criticism for its severe rights abuses of the predominantly Muslim Uyghurs, including forced labor. The U.S. government and several Western parliaments have declared that the abuses amount to genocide or crimes against humanity.
A police officer from Seriqbuya told RFA in April that prison authorities delivered five bodies to his police station, and that most of them had been in their 70s or 80s and had been ill.
“It appears that most of them passed away due to ineffective medical treatments,” he said.
The police officer also confirmed that one of the corpses was that of Abdugheni Qadir.
A person familiar with the situation told RFA that Abdugheni Qadir from Seriqbuya was the son of Qadir Toxti, principal of Sériqbuya Primary School. Authorities arrested him in 2017 while he was doing business in Urumqi, capital of the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region.
The other three dead prisoners were Memettursun Metniyaz, Haji’ahun and his wife Mehpiremhan.
Metniyaz was a Uyghur motorcycle repairman jailed in early 2017 for completing the hajj, the Muslim pilgrimage to Mecca in Saudi Arabia, years before. He died of diabetes in jail and his body was delivered to his family, a local residential committee member who oversaw the return of his corpse told RFA in a May report.
Haji’ahun, a hatmaker, and his spouse Mehpiremhan, residents of Maralbeshi county, were each sentenced to 10 years in Tumshuq Prison in 2019 for “illegal” religious activities, people with knowledge of the couple’s situation told RFA in a June report.
Translated by RFA Uyghur. Edited by Roseanne Gerin and Matt Reed.