A building officially called a vocational skills education center, but believed to be a detention facility for Muslim Uyghurs, is seen in Hotan, northwestern China’s Xinjiang region, Sept. 7, 2018.
Two Uyghur brothers detained in a Xinjiang internment camp for four years before being released in August 2021 were rearrested just a week later and are now being forced to work in factories, local officials and a Uyghur in exile who has knowledge of the situation said.
The brothers from Lop (in Chinese, Luopu) county in Hotan (Hetian) prefecture were held in a camp in the county’s Sampul village, said the Uyghur source, who is also from Lop.
Authorities arrested Eziz Abdulla, a farmer living in the village’s Aydinkol hamlet, along with his two sons, Abduqahar Eziz and Ablikim Eziz, for “illegal gatherings” while they were watering their crops in a field in 2017, the source said.
“At that time, from January to March of 2017, not only the father and sons, but also 20 percent of the other residents of the village were taken to the ‘re-education’ camps for illegal religious activities and illegal gatherings, and spreading harmful information,” the Uyghur in exile said.
China’s network of re-education camps is believed to have held up to 1.8 million members of the mostly Muslim minority group and other Turkic minorities since 2017. Many detainees are forced to work in factories in Xinjiang or elsewhere in China. Government officials say the camps are vocational training centers to purportedly prevent religious extremism and terrorism in the region.
Four months after Eziz Abdulla’s arrest, his wife, Tursungul Mettomur, received a verdict letter stating that her husband had been sentenced to 13 years in prison. Many other residents of the neighborhood received similar prison sentences, without legal due process, the Uyghur in exile said.
A year later, Tursungul learned that her two sons, one in his 30s and the other in his mid-20s, were in a training center, the Uyghur source said.
The woman was able to communicate with her sons via videoconferencing and eagerly counted the days until their release. She had found a woman for her younger son to marry and agreed with the fiancé’s parents on future wedding arrangements.
In August 2021, local police told Tursungul that her two sons were going to be released, the Uyghur source said. But just a week after they were freed, police apprehended both sons again, without explanation. The younger one was arrested while he and his mother were planning his wedding with his future in-laws.
The police told Tursungul where her two sons would be taken but advised her not to disclose information on their whereabouts, the Uyghur source said. Officers also warned her that if she disobeyed their order, her husband would serve a longer prison sentence than the one he had received.
As a result, Tursungul did not tell anyone, including the future in-laws, where her sons had been taken, the Uyghur source said. With the two sons gone again, Tursungul, her older son’s wife, and two grandchildren continued their family life without any male presence in their home, the Uyghur source said.
A women’s affairs director in Sampul initially told RFA that all so-called “trainees” in the village had been released.
But after an RFA reporter mentioned the names of detainees, including Abduqahar and Ablikim Eziz, the local official said they were in the training center in Lop or in prison in Ghulja (Yining), a city in far northern Xinjiang near Kazakhstan. She was unable to provide further information about the two disappeared brothers.
A police officer in Sampul village confirmed the information RFA had received about the two brothers and said they had been sent to Lop and Kashgar, which is also in Xinjiang, to perform forced labor.
“The two sons were released from training, and now they are working by government arrangement in factories in Lop and Kashgar,” he said.
The police officer also confirmed that their father, Eziz Abdulla, had been sentenced to 13 years in prison four months after his arrest and was serving a sentence in Tumshuq, a city in the western part of Xinjiang.
The release and then rearrest of Uyghurs is not uncommon in Xinjiang. In earlier RFA reports, Uyghurs released from the re-education camps were only home for a couple of days before they were apprehended again and taken to forced labor sites.
In one instance, authorities sent three youths who had completed training in Imamlirim village in Uchturpan (Wushi) county in Aksu (Akesu) prefecture to a factory after they had been home for only one night. They were told that they would not be allowed to return except for festivals.
Translated by the Uyghur Service. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.