UPDATED at 8:15 P.M. EST on 2018-12-18
Authorities in northwest China’s Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR) have arrested a Uyghur senior court official for “two-faced” tendencies after he expressed concern over the mass incarceration of members of his ethnic group in recent years, according to official sources.
Ghalip Qurban (in Chinese, Alifu Kuerban), the deputy head of the Intermediate People’s Court in the XUAR capital Urumqi, was arrested after returning to the region from China’s capital Beijing, where he had attended a conference in April, a source recently told RFA’s Uyghur Service, speaking on condition of anonymity.
The source said Qurban was distressed by the vast number of Uyghurs and other Muslim ethnic minorities who had been detained in political re-education camps throughout the XUAR since April 2017 after being accused of harboring “strong religious views” and “politically incorrect” ideas, and had been called for multiple “chats” with officials from the State Security Department after speaking out about the policy.
Uyghur senior court officials are required to sign off on sentences issued in cases concerning crimes of “terrorism” and “religious extremism” in the XUAR, and Qurban may have believed he might later be judged to have been a party to crimes against humanity, according to the source, who said in several instances Qurban refused to approve or delayed paperwork, claiming that authorities were abusing the law.
Qurban filed grievances over the situation in the XUAR with officials from the central government in April to avoid persecution in the region, but though they professed sympathy and vowed to address his concerns, authorities arrested him at the Urumqi airport on his return, the source said.
Qurban‘s family and friends only learned of his arrest a month after he was taken into custody, he said.
A staff member at the Urumqi Intermediate People’s Court told RFA that Qurban had been removed from his post “quite a long time ago—six months or a year,” when asked to confirm his arrest, but was unsure whether he had been imprisoned or sent to a re-education camp.
“I don't know, as I only studied his case and watched related videos,” the staff member said, adding that the court had made an announcement about Qurban‘s arrest.
The staff member said he believed Qurban had been accused of being a “two-faced official”—a term applied by the government to ethnic minority cadres who pay lip service to Communist Party rule, but secretly chafe against state policies repressing members of their ethnic group.
Reports suggest that authorities are detaining as many Uyghurs as possible in re-education camps and jails regardless of their age, prior service to the Communist Party, or the severity of the accusations against them—as part of a bid to satisfy “quotas” ordered by the regional government.
Those who fail to meet the detention quotas face official scrutiny and, in some cases, are sent off to the camps themselves.
Uyghur sources in exile say cases of “two-faced officials” in the XUAR show that not even those Uyghurs who pledge allegiance to the state are safe from its policies against their ethnic group.
Mass detentions in the XUAR have drawn significant attention from the international community, and particularly from the U.S., where lawmakers have called for access to the camps and proposed sanctions against officials and entities in China deemed responsible for abusing the rights of ethnic Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities.
While Beijing initially denied the existence of re-education camps, the chairman of the XUAR government, Shohrat Zakir, told China’s official Xinhua news agency in October that the facilities are an effective tool to protect the country from terrorism and provide vocational training for Uyghurs.
But reporting by RFA’s Uyghur Service and other media organizations has shown that those held in the camps are detained against their will, are subjected to political indoctrination and rough treatment at the hands of their overseers, and endure poor diets and unhygienic conditions in the often overcrowded facilities. The atmosphere is more like a prison than any kind of school, multiple sources say.
Adrian Zenz, a lecturer in social research methods at the Germany-based European School of Culture and Theology, has said that some 1.1 million people are or have been detained in the camps—equating to 10 to 11 percent of the adult Muslim population of the XUAR.
Earlier this month, Scott Busby, the deputy assistant secretary in the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor at the U.S. Department of State, said there are "at least 800,000 and possibly up to a couple of million" Uyghurs and others detained at re-education camps in the XUAR without charges, citing U.S. intelligence assessments.
Citing credible reports, U.S. lawmakers Marco Rubio and Chris Smith, who head the bipartisan Congressional-Executive Commission on China, recently called the situation in the XUAR "the largest mass incarceration of a minority population in the world today."
Reported by Shohret Hoshur for RFA’s Uyghur Service. Translated by RFA’s Uyghur Service. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.