Chinese authorities have sentenced the brother and sister of a prominent exiled Uyghur scholar and linguist to several years in jail in China’s Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR), government and police officials in the region told RFA last month.
The confirmation of the sentence comes on the heels of an RFA report confirming that scholar Abduweli Ayup’s niece, Mihray Erkin, had died at the Yanbulaq internment camp while being investigated by state security police in Kashgar (in Chinese, Kashi) prefecture.
Abduweli Ayup is the founder of Uyghur Hjelp, a Norway-based Uyghur advocacy and aid organization which maintains a list of detained Uyghur intellectuals.
Mihray Erkin was a graduate of Shanghai’s Jiao Tong University with a degree in plant biotechnology who had gone on to complete a related master’s degree in Tokyo University before becoming a researcher at Japan’s Nara Institute of Science and Technology. She returned to the XUAR in August 2019 after authorities in Kashgar pressured her parents to call her home.
In late 2020, RFA reported that Mihray Erkin was believed to have died while in detention in one of the XUAR’s vast network of internment camps, where authorities in the region are believed to have held up to 1.8 million Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities in a network of detention camps since early 2017. The report could not be independently confirmed at the time.
Following confirmation of Mihray Erkin’s death, RFA asked authorities in the XUAR about her detained father, Erkin Ayup, and aunt, Sajidigul Ayup — Abduweli Ayup’s brother and sister.
Authorities detained Erkin Ayup in July 2017 and Sajidigul Ayup in September 2017, according to Abduweli.
Sajidigul was detained when she was working at the No. 1 High School in Konisheher (Shufu) county, Kashgar prefecture, while Erkin was apprehended when he was working for the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) Konisheher county branch, Abduweli said.
An official at the court in Konisheher in the XUAR declined to provide information on their cases over the phone, saying that they were sensitive issues.
“We can’t talk about the cases,” he told RFA on May 26 before abruptly ending the call.
A Uyghur from Konisheher with knowledge of the situation told RFA on May 26 that Sajidigul and Erkin had been promoted to higher positions for performing their jobs well, but they were arrested for failing to demonstrate loyalty to authorities as expected.
The Uyghur, who declined to be named out of fear for his safety, also said the pair were arrested because of Abduweli’s activities in exile and that they were forced to denounce their brother at a public gathering in Toqquzaq township in Kashgar’s Konasheher county.
Chinese authorities sentenced Sajidigul to 12 years in jail, while Erkin received a 14-year sentence, because their brother advocated for Uyghur human rights, he said.
Police confirm jailing
A police officer from Toqquzaq told RFA on May 26 that he was uncertain of the exact year of the verdict, but confirmed that Erkin had already been sentenced for various reasons, including “mistakes” he made while working for the Family Planning Committee.
A second police officer in Toqquzaq told RFA the same day that Sajidigul is serving her 12-year sentence at the prison in Mush (Muxi), another Konisheher county township.
A third police officer in Toqquzaq also confirmed the 12-year sentence.
Abduweli told RFA on May 26 that his sister and brother are both CCP members and model government officials, and have been promoted several times.
He also said that his siblings supported his Uyghur-language activities while he was in the XUAR.
Sajidigal and Erkin were likely among the 72 Uyghurs in Kashgar who participated in the Uyghur-language activities and were arrested by Kashgar national security forces, Abduweli said.
Abduweli said he received an email from Chinese authorities in mid-May notifying him that his niece’s death and the jailing of his siblings were in retaliation for his activity in exile and meant to stop his human rights activity among members of the Uyghur diaspora.
But he said it was impossible to stop his activities because of the prosecution of his family members and the ongoing persecution of Uyghurs in the XUAR.
The recent news has strengthened his determination to provide a voice for Uyghurs held in the internment camps and to fight for their freedom and seek justice for them, Abduweli said.
“If these sacrifices, punishments, retaliations, psychological torture and mental oppression push us into a corner, repressing our voices, it will be a victory for the Chinese dictatorship,” he said.
The U.S. State Department — as well as parliaments in Canada, the Netherlands, the UK, and Lithuania — have described China’s actions in the region as “genocide,” while Human Rights Watch says they constitute crimes against humanity. The Italian parliament voted unanimously last week to condemn Chinese atrocities against Uyghurs and other Turkic peoples.
In a commentary Thursday on the Project Syndicate website, Irwin Cotler, Canada’s former attorney general and justice minister, and Yonah Diamond, legal counsel at the Raoul Wallenberg Center for Human Rights, said that state parties to the 1948 United Nations Genocide Convention have a responsibility to prevent and hold China accountable for the crime, ensure justice for the victims, and end impunity for the violators.
“In March, following an independent examination of the situation in Xinjiang, more than 50 experts on international law, genocide, and the region agreed that the Chinese state’s atrocities rise to the level of genocide,” they wrote.
“With all other paths to justice foreclosed, the responsibility falls on national governments to speak up for the victims and fulfill their obligations under the 1948 Convention to prevent and end complicity in the genocide.”
Reported by Shohret Hoshur for RFA’s Uyghur Service. Translated by RFA’s Uyghur Service. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.
This content originally appeared on Radio Free Asia and was authored by Radio Free Asia.