‘If They Hadn’t Tortured My Husband, He Wouldn’t Have Fallen Into a Coma’

Munawwar Ablimit is a Uyghur mother of two from the prefecture-level city of Karamay (in Chinese, Kelemayi) in northwest China’s Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR). In 2017, her husband Polat Ibrahim was sent to an internment camp, where authorities have detained as many as 1.8 million Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities accused of harboring “strong religious views” and “politically incorrect” ideas beginning that year. In February of 2017, Ibrahim fell into a coma, was sent by camp authorities for 20 days of medical treatment and then released to his home, where he died 10 days later.

China has described the camps as “boarding schools” that provide vocational training for Uyghurs, discourage radicalization, and help protect the country from terrorism, but reporting by RFA’s Uyghur Service suggests that people are detained against their will, routinely face rough treatment at the hands of their overseers, and endure poor diets and unhygienic conditions in the often overcrowded facilities. Ablimit, who currently lives in Istanbul, Turkey, recently told RFA’s Uyghur Service that she believes her husband may have died as a result of injuries he sustained during interrogations at his camp. She also revealed that all five of her younger siblings have been detained by authorities since she fled the XUAR.

I am Munawwar, and I would like to give an oral testimony on behalf of my relatives who are back in my country, my homeland. There were six children in my family—I’m the oldest of the six … Our family members are both intellectuals and blue-collar workers. There’s not a single person in my family, which has long held government jobs, who has done anything against the government or the political climate … Our only sin was having accepted Islam. We’re a religious family, we accepted Islam. We prayed five times a day and read the Qur’an. My parents went [on the holy Islamic pilgrimage] to Mecca. They committed no other crime. Going to Mecca is considered a crime. They’ve used the fact that we’re a praying, Islamic family to make us into a big “political” family.

I have one daughter and one son. On July 11, 2015, I traveled to Turkey with my two children. Both of my kids had hoped to study in Turkey, so I came and got them settled in at a school. Two months later I returned home … As soon as I got back, security officials came looking for me and asked where I’d been. They said, “You’ve been to Turkey” and asked what I’d done there. So I told them about my childrens’ dream to study … After four months, out of nowhere, people showed up from the Public Security Bureau to interrogate me. They came and interrogated me for four consecutive days. They insisted that my children come back … Their intent was to find some sort of excuse to accuse me of something. Meanwhile, word started getting out that they were gathering passports. I heard of several people whose passports had been confiscated, and I started to get worried. What would happen if my passport were taken away and my kids were stuck alone in Turkey? I started looking for a way out, and Allah gave it to me. I found a way out and returned to Turkey with Allah’s help on Feb. 19, 2016.
They really gave my husband a tough time after I went back [to Turkey]. [After he was detained], when they were torturing my husband and interrogating him, he ended up in a coma, although we aren’t sure how. He fell into a coma and they took him to intensive care. They wouldn’t let anyone see him. They were taking everyone from our family [into detention] at that time. If they hadn’t tortured my husband, he wouldn’t have ended up like that. He wouldn’t have fallen into a coma. My youngest brother told me the news of my husband’s death on [the messaging app] WeChat … I only heard about the torture my husband had been through from people I met after coming here [to Turkey].

‘Foul play’

March 3, 2017 is when I learned about my husband’s death. [Family members] took a picture of my husband in the room where they washed his body. I have the picture. After his death, I don’t know the details but they took in his family—his older brother and his sister. My brother-in-law died as well, but I don’t know the cause of his death. He was so loyal and faithful to the government, and he wasn’t a political person. It has to be true that my husband died from some sort of foul play. He was a completely healthy person.

After I returned to Turkey, they detained everyone from my family, including all of my younger brothers and sisters. The oldest of my younger sisters worked at the Karamay TV station. One of my younger brothers, they took him into a camp as well, and he came out with foot problems, unable to walk. They eventually let him out for medical treatment. At that time, I was able to talk with my mom on the phone every once in a while … She would say, “They took them to a reeducation center to learn, it’s no big deal.” She couldn’t say much more [because she was being monitored]. It must have been heart-wrenching for her.

So many people from my family have disappeared. I don’t know how many more of my … fellow Uyghurs have disappeared … I hope that the international community can stand up for us.

Reported by Arslan for RFA’s Uyghur Service. Translated by RFA’s Uyghur Service. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.

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