Wednesday 29 Dec 2021
Mirzat Taher, 30, is an innocent man who has been punished for being a Uyghur who travelled abroad, his wife says (Picture: Mehray Taher)
Mehray Taher, 27, remembers the day her husband Mirzat, 30, was sentenced to 25 years in jail by the Chinese Government.
‘I remember just being in denial. I sat there like “No, that can’t be true”‘, she tells Metro.co.uk. ‘
I was crying non-stop, I don’t even know where the tears were coming from.
‘I was thinking “25 years, my husband will be 55 when he gets out. How is that possible?’
Official papers state Mirzat was arrested for alleged separatism – but Mehray says he is an innocent man whose ‘only crime is being Uyghur’.
Human rights experts believe up to 1.5 million Uyghur Muslims have been imprisoned in concentration camps.
While there is ‘no evidence of mass killings’, forced sterilisations and abortions amount to genocide, a UK-based unofficial tribunal recently concluded. China has consistently denied all allegations.
Mehray says she has only spent 14 months of her five-year marriage with Mirzat as he has been repeatedly forced into camps, which China insists simply provide ‘extremists’ with a ‘re-education’.
The Australian nurse, born into a Uyghur family, started hearing rumours about people disappearing after she got married in Xinjiang.
The couple was two days away from starting a new life in Australia when police rang to say they were coming for ‘a chat’ on April 10, 2017.
Minutes into the conversation, Mehray says it hit her the rumours she’d heard were true.
After interrogating Mirzat on a year he spent working as a tour guide in Turkey, officials removed his passport.
His family watched him vanish in a car flanked by armed officers and he was taken to a detention camp for two years.
The couple has spent just 14 months of their five-year marriage together
(Picture: Mehray Taher)
Drone footage showing police leading hundreds of blindfolded and shackled men from a train in what is believed to be a transfer of inmates in Xinjiang (Picture: Lorna AingerDM)
More than one million Uyghurs have been put in camps, human rights experts say
(Picture: Mehray Taher)
Mehray believes Mirzat was targeted because he had travelled abroad to Muslim-majority countries.
‘Actually seeing it unravel in front of my eyes, I was in complete shock. I was like, “how can we not do anything to help him?”, Mehray says.
‘I wanted to scream “What are you guys doing? You can’t just arrest a person who hasn’t committed a crime”.
‘His parents were looking at me like “don’t say anything”. That’s the thing, the Government has scared the Uyghurs so much, they’re helpless.
‘So many people in our neighbourhood disappeared afterward. Everyone you would run into, it was either their son, their husband, their friend, their sister or their mother.’
Mehray ‘cried tears of happiness’ when she found a surprise voice message from Mirzat saying he had been released on May 22, 2019.
The couple shared an emotional reunion when Mehray’s Chinese visa was approved two months later. But her husband wasn’t the same.
Camp escapees have recalled harrowing stories of alleged indoctrination and systematic rape. Mehray says she is yet to hear the full details of her husband’s ordeal but she knows he was psychologically tortured.
’It was non-stop studying and confessing their crimes like “I shouldn’t have gone overseas, I’m not going to do that anymore,” she says.
‘They’re constantly told they’re never going to leave or see loved ones again. That they’re all criminals, they’re never going to live normal lives, they’re going to die within these four walls, and no one’s going to know about it.
‘After they released him, he couldn’t walk past a police station without thinking they were going to run out and arrest him. He was traumatised.’
Mirzat’s worst fear became a reality almost a year to the day that he was released.
The couple had been separated once again by visa problems before the pandemic struck and borders were closed.
Mirzat has been described as a ‘kind and loving’ young man (Picture: Mehray Taher)
Chinese flags on a road leading to a facility believed to be a re-education camp
(Picture: AFP via Getty Images)
The former tour guide was ‘traumatised’ by the camps, his wife says (Picture: Mehray Taher)
They were staying in contact online but Mehray immediately knew something was wrong when Mirzat stopped replying. She found out he had been taken into a camp on May 19, 2020.
He was released in August after his Australian permanent residency was granted. But before he could make it out of China, officials returned to arrest him for allegedly ‘organising, leading and participating in terrorist organisation’.
‘My husband knew they were coming so our last conversation was saying goodbye,’ Mehray said. ‘He was saying, “I don’t know if they are going to let me go this time. Please take care of yourself. Please wait for me. Please don’t forget me”.’
Mehray was left in disbelief as her ‘kind and loving’ husband was sentenced to 25 years on April 1, 2021.
‘I couldn’t believe they could be that ruthless,’ she says. ‘That they could do something like that to an innocent person with no evidence. It shocked me to my core.’
The Department of Foreign Affairs in Australia has been in touch with the Chinese Embassy in Beijing to try and find out where Mirzat is.
They received a one-line response saying he was being held on suspected separatism and terrorism charges, according to Mehray. A ‘retrial’ was said to be happening but there has been no word for two months.
Senior officials including Chinese president Xi Jinping bear ‘primary responsibility’ for human rights abuses against Uyghurs, the recent non-official UK-based tribunal found.
The Chinese Government named the hearing a ‘political tool used by a few anti-China elements to deceive and mislead the public’.
Ministers have warned the UK, US, Australia and Canada will ‘pay the price’ after the four launched a diplomatic boycott of the Beijing Winter Olympics this month.
Mehray says she will never stop fighting until she is reunited with her husband, and is appealing to others to raise awareness of the Uyghur human rights abuses.
‘I’ve had people tell me my husband doesn’t exist, that he’s not my husband, that he’s not Uyghur, I’m not Uyghur, that I’m anti-China. If this wasn’t really happening, why would we be lying?
‘I’m not trying to bring China down, I just want my husband back. China has locked away more than a million of my people, we just want to be free.’
Nikita White, Amnesty International Australia campaigner said: ‘According to the evidence Amnesty International has gathered, the Chinese government has committed the crimes against humanity of imprisonment, torture and persecution in Xinjiang, at the very least.
‘Amnesty urges Chinese authorities to Immediately release Mirzat Taher, and all people detained in internment camps and in prisons in Xinjiang, unless there is sufficient, credible and admissible evidence that they have committed an internationally recognized offence.’
Metro.co.uk has contacted China’s Ministry of Justice and Department of Foreign Affairs for comment.