Munzire’s husband Elyasjan Rahman, from Kashgar (in Chinese, Kashi) city, in northwest China’s Xinjiang region, is among 16 Uyghur students who remain unaccounted for nine months after authorities in Egypt’s capital Cairo launched a dragnet targeting more than 200 members of the ethnic minority at Beijing’s behest. Egyptian authorities claimed that the roundup was part of a bid to curb illegal immigration, although most of the Uyghurs detained were enrolled in studies at Cairo’s prestigious Al-Azhar Islamic University.
Dozens of Uyghurs are believed to have already been deported home to Xinjiang, where rights groups say they face a serious risk of incarceration and torture. The arrests constitute what New York-based Human Rights Watch’s China director Sophie Richardson said is an example of “one of the most powerful governments in the world … arbitrarily detaining people for no legal reason.”
Munzire, now 20, fled Egypt for Turkey when the manhunt began in July last year, ahead of Elyasjan, but he never made it onto his flight. Her brother, Nur Eli, who also studied at Al-Azhar with Elyasjan, said he was likely targeted because he was a bright academic that the other students looked up to. Munzire recently described to RFA’s Uyghur Service how her husband was detained, what she knows about his situation, and the effect his absence has had on her young family.
RFA: Do you remember the day when the mass arrests started, and how your husband came to be detained?
Munzire: On July 4, we received messages from various social media groups that police [in Cairo] were raiding houses and arresting Uyghurs. On hearing the news, we drove our car to the outskirts of the city. We returned home early next morning around 5:00 a.m., and quickly had our breakfast before packing a bag. Having decided to leave the country we went to the airport [with six others] and bought tickets to Istanbul.
RFA: So all of you were students with valid student visas?
Munzire: Yes, we were all legally residing in the country. After we bought our tickets, my husband and his best friend Muhamad Yasin were concerned about themselves, as we overheard that they were on a “blacklist,” so we decided to travel separately. My husband and his friend said, “If we are wanted, and we all travel together, it might implicate the others. Therefore, you should board the flight and we will depart later.”
I left Cairo with some other students, while my husband and Muhamad remained there. We passed through security and passport control without any problems and arrived safely in Istanbul. My husband and his friend planned to travel on July 7. Their plan was that Muhamad would pass through security first, after which my husband would follow him. Muhamad got out of the taxi and went into the airport, while my husband remained in the taxi, but soon they lost contact with each other. As my husband got out of the taxi, he was arrested immediately by a plainclothes policeman. He told me this when we spoke on the phone after his arrest.
On the seventh day after he was arrested, we lost contact. Later, I heard from his lawyer that he had been transferred to Tora Prison [in Cairo] … On the morning of Eid [the end of the holy Muslim month of Ramadan on Aug. 31], he texted me, so I called him and we had a long chat … The investigators told him they would never hand him over to the Chinese authorities. They said they only arrested him because the Chinese government claimed that they were terrorists, but they realized that they had made a mistake, and it would only be a matter of time before they were released.
RFA: Have you heard anything from his lawyer since? Hasn’t he provided any information regarding your husband’s situation?
Munzire: No, he has only told us that he was unable to obtain any information … I’ve tried everything I can, but I haven’t heard a thread of news.
RFA: When your husband was arrested, you were pregnant, and you gave birth to your daughter on your own. Is that right?
Munzire: Twenty-five days after losing contact with my husband, I gave birth [to my second daughter] … When I look at my two children I become deeply heart-broken … There were other Uyghur men released from prison after being arrested, some of whom shared a cell with my husband. They told me that my husband sat looking at my daughter’s picture all the time. I feel unbearable pain when I think of him.
Reported by Gulchehra Hoja for RFA’s Uyghur Service. Translated by RFA's Uyghur Service. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.