A well-loved Uyghur comedian has gone missing in China’s Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR), with social media sources—confirmed by anonymous reports to RFA—saying he is now serving a three-year prison term for making a trip to the Muslim holy city of Mecca without authorities’ permission.
Adil Mijit, 54, had recently left a hospital where he was recovering from heart surgery when his family last heard from him, the performer’s daughter told RFA’s Uyghur Service, speaking in an interview from her home in Turkey.
“It is now over a month since he was discharged, and I have lost contact with him,” his daughter Adile said.
“I am worrying a lot because of his health situation,” Adile said, noting that her father had spent over 70 days in hospital after being dismissed from his job. “I wish I could find something out, as there is no one I can contact for answers about what happened to him.”
Reached by RFA for comment, Mijit's former employer the Xinjiang Opera Troupe declined comment on the case, citing “a lack of clear information” regarding Mijit's whereabouts or fate.
Mijjit's disappearance is believed to be linked to a pilgrimage he made two years ago to the Muslim holy city of Mecca without permission from Chinese authorities, who routinely restrict and punish expressions of the ethnic Uyghur people’s Islamic faith and cultural identity.
Widely popular among Uyghurs in the XUAR, Adil Mijit had once performed hundreds of shows each year.
Speaking in a 2010 interview with Diyarim, a popular Uyghur website later closed by Chinese authorities, Mijit said that in his performances he saw himself following in the footsteps of the generations of “legendary masters” who had come before him.
“I must work very hard to repay my people,” Mijit said. “They have very high hopes because of the love and affection they have for us.”
Network of camps
Many prominent intellectuals have disappeared in the XUAR in recent months and are believed held in political re-education camps, where authorities have detained Uyghurs and other Muslim ethnic minorities accused of harboring “strong religious views” and “politically incorrect” ideas throughout the region since April 2017.
Sources in the exile community have said the trend shows that Chinese authorities are “committing cultural genocide by attempting to eliminate the best and brightest Uyghur minds.”
Though Beijing initially denied the existence of re-education camps, the Uyghur chairman of Xinjiang’s provincial 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.
Reporting by RFA’s Uyghur Service and other media organizations, however, has shown that those in the camps are detained against their will and subjected to political indoctrination, routinely face rough treatment at the hands of their overseers, and endure poor diets and unhygienic conditions in the often overcrowded facilities.
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.
Scott Busby, the deputy assistant secretary in the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor at the U.S. Department of State, has meanwhile 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 Gulchehra Hoja for RFA’s Uyghur Service. Translated by Alim Seytoff. Written in English by Richard Finney.