BY N24 Correspondent, KATHMANDU:- Five relatives of a Uyghur trader who died after being freed from an internment camp in northwest China’s Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR) are in prison, according to officials, while one other is believed to have died in a camp after being ordered home from Egypt.
Kurbanjan Abdukerim, 54, passed away four days after his Feb. 23 release from one of the facilities in the XUAR’s vast network of camps, where authorities are believed to have held up to 1.8 million Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities since early 2017, according to Radio Free Asia.
The well-known businessman was detained in early 2018 from his home township of Azaq, in Atush (in Chinese, Atushi), a county-level city of around 270,000 people that is the capital of Kizilsu Kirghiz (Kezileisu Keerkezi) Autonomous Prefecture in the cotton- and grape-growing region of southwestern XUAR.
At the time of his detention, Kurbanjan was reportedly healthy and weighed around 100 kilograms (220 pounds), said Zibibulla, a neighbor in exile, who declined to provide his family name for fear of reprisal against relatives still in the XUAR. But by the time he was released three years later, Kurbanjan was down to 53 kilograms (117 pounds) and he died soon after of unknown causes.
While investigating his case, RFA learned that Kurbanjan’s brother, Seyit’akhun is currently serving a prison sentence in Aghu Prison in Atush, reportedly for having sent two of his sons to Egypt to study.
Seyit’akhun, one of four siblings, sent his sons Ibrahim and Ezimet to Egypt to study in 2013 after consulting with his older brother Abdukerim.
In 2017, Seyit’akhun returned to Atush from Kyrgyzstan, where his family regularly traded Chinese fabrics, after being called home by police, Zibibulla said. Upon his return, he was made to force his sons to return to the XUAR from Egypt and all three were taken into custody.
“After returning to Atush, they detained Kurbanjan’s younger brother Seyit’akhun Abdukerim because his children had studied in Egypt, told him he had to bring his children back, and forced his children back from Egypt,” Zibibulla said.
Seyit’akhun was sentenced to 18 years in prison for the “crime” of having sent two of his children to Egypt to study.
“Seyit’akhun was sentenced to 18 years. His children were also sentenced at the same time, they’re in jail.”
Egypt is among several countries blacklisted by authorities for travel by Uyghurs because of a perceived threat of religious extremism, and RFA has documented several instances where people have been detained for overseas visits or maintaining ties abroad.
Beginning in early July 2017, more than 200 Uyghurs, many of them religious students at Al-Azhar, were detained in Egypt after being rounded up in restaurants or at their homes, with others seized at airports as they tried to flee to safer countries, sources said in earlier reports.
Dozens were then deported back to Xinjiang, where rights groups said they faced a serious risk of arbitrary detention and torture, while many who had earlier gone home on their own in response to a Chinese government order to return for “registration” were also taken into custody.
Zibibulla told RFA that another nephew of Kurbanjan’s and one of his nieces, Imran and Madina Hekimjan were also detained and later imprisoned after being forced to return from Egypt, where they were studying at the time.
“They were also in Egypt and were locked up in prison after being called back,” he said.
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