News of Yusup Saqal’s sentence comes as a top Chinese official tours Xinjiang to dispute charges of persecution.
By Shohret Hoshur and Alim Seytoff
Guards occupy a watchtower on a high-security facility near what is believed to be a re-education camp where mostly Muslim ethnic minorities are detained on the outskirts of Hotan in northwestern China's Xinjiang region, May 31, 2019.
As China's top political adviser declared “all ethnic groups live happily” on a tour of Xinjiang, RFA learned of another Uyghur serving a lengthy prison term for a seemingly harmless act, in this case helping family members of other Uyghurs previously detained by authorities.
Yusup Saqal, a well-known figure and charity organizer for Uyghur soccer in the town of Karamay (in Chinese, Kelamayi), was sentenced to 14 years behind bars in late 2018 on charges of “taking criminals under his wing,” Uyghur sources with knowledge of the situation said.
A Uyghur from Karamay who now lives in exile said authorities arrested Yusup, whose real name is Yusupjan Memtimin, in 2017.
In 2014, Yusup drove the wife and children of a detained Uyghur to the detention facility for a prearranged meeting. That incident was later pointed to as the reason for Yusup’s own arrest and detention, according to the Uyghur in exile.
When RFA contacted relevant Chinese authorities in Karamay to confirm the information, one Chinese official at Karamay’s political and legal bureau confirmed that Yusup been detained and sentenced.
“[He] was sentenced to 14 years in prison,” he said.
Yusup resigned from a government job in Karamay in the 1990s and started a wholesale business selling Korla pears and Turpan grapes grown in Xinjiang to other Chinese provinces, said Memetjan, a Uyghur from Karamay who now lives in Norway.
“He would donate to Uyghur soccer teams, and he donated to and organized soccer games in the Uyghur region,” he told RFA.
At one time, Yusup clashed with Chinese businessmen, and the police arrested him on suspicion of “intentionally destroying ethnic unity,” Memetjan said.
Yusup also was once summoned by China’s national security police in 2014 and interrogated about why he had given up drinking alcohol, said the first unnamed Uyghur source who lives in exile.
Abdureshid Niyaz, a Uyghur exile based in Turkey and the former editor of Karamay’s Oil Spring Magazine, said Yusup became a target of suspicion by Chinese authorities after he had embraced a more Islamic lifestyle.
“When I was arrested and interrogated by the Chinese police in 2002, they had asked me about Yusupjan,” Abdureshid Niyaz told RFA. “The Chinese police wanted to find ‘a problem’ with him.”
Abdureshid said that as a young public figure in the Uyghur society, Yusup offered help to other Uyghurs who came to Karamay in search of a job or a better life. He also tried to help more people who had lost relatives to China’s arbitrary detention campaign after it began in 2014.
Because of this, Yusup was regularly interrogated by the police, he said.
“I think the Chinese government sentenced him for 14 years in prison not because he committed any crime but because he was someone who could unite the people and bring cause for justice,” he said.
Yusup’s more than two decades of charity work toward developing Uyghur soccer was another reason why the Chinese had targeted him, Abdureshid said.
Wang Yang visits Xinjiang
RFA learned of Yusup’s sentence as a top Chinese Communist Party (CPP) official and Politburo member, Wang Yang, visited Xinjiang on an inspection tour from March 18 to 22.
Wang visited the major cities of Urumqi (Wulumuqi), Kashgar (Kashi) and Hotan (Hetian) as well as rural areas. He met with CPP and local government officials and presided over a forum on issues, China’s state-run media reported.
Wang noted that Xinjiang had not experienced any terrorist incidents in the past five years and applauded the region for reducing poverty. He reportedly said that it was his sense that the happiness, fulfillment and security among people of all ethnic groups in Xinjiang continues to grow, the reports said.
“We must forge the material foundation of long-term political stability and refute smearing and slandering by enemy forces with the fact that all ethnic groups live happily,” Wang was quoted as saying by the official Xinhua News Agency on Tuesday.
On Tuesday, the U.S. government imposed new sanctions against Chinese officials over the repression of Uyghurs in China and elsewhere, prompting an angry response from Beijing, which has consistently denied committing right abuses against Uyghurs and other Turkic minorities in Xinjiang.
It was no coincidence that Wang’s visit came 11 days after Michelle Bachelet, the U.N.’s high commissioner of human rights, announced that she would visit China and the Xinjiang region in May, said Dolkun Isa, president of the Germany-based World Uyghur Congress.
“It appears Wang Yang was sent by Chinese dictator Xi Jinping to order a total cleanup of East Turkestan by sanitizing any traces of China’s five-year long genocide and crimes against humanity, and by creating a Potemkin facade of Uyghurs living in peace and happiness under Chinese rule,” he told RFA, using the Uyghurs’ preferred name for the Xinjiang region.
Earlier this month, Bachelet told the Geneva-based Human Rights Council by videoconference that she had reached an agreement with the Chinese government for a visit “foreseen to take place in May,” including travel to Xinjiang.
“China will welcome High Commissioner Bachelet in May and present to her that Uyghurs have been treated well for the past five years and that genocide against Uyghurs was a lie concocted by the U.S.-led Western democracies,” Isa said.
Translated by RFA’s Uyghur Service. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.