Interview: ‘I Wanted Her to be Safe’
Oghulnisa Ghoja'abdulla in an undated photo. Photo courtesy of Omer Ghoja’abdulla
Omer Ghoja’abdulla, an ethnic Uyghur Muslim from northwest China’s Xinjiang region, has been living in Istanbul, Turkey practicing traditional Uyghur medicine for the last three years. He lost contact with his sister, 55-year-old Oghulnisa Ghoja’abdulla, who lives in Hotan (in Chinese, Hetian) prefecture’s Qaraqash (Moyu) county, more than a year ago, and only recently discovered that she is being held in one of the many political re-education camps throughout Xinjiang, where authorities have been detaining Uyghurs accused of harbouring “extremist” and “politically incorrect”thoughts since April last year. While he is unsure of his sister’s location, Ghoja’abdulla recently told RFA’s Uyghur Service that he believes she was detained by police to force him to return home, or because of her Muslim faith—two common motives for authorities targeting Uyghurs in Xinjiang, where members of the ethnic group have long complained of pervasive discrimination, religious repression, and cultural suppression under Chinese rule.
RFA: Do you know about your sister’s situation and what exactly happened?
Omer Ghoja’abdulla: I was born in Manglay township, in Qaraqash county. For six months after leaving [China], I was unable to get through to anyone back home, as no one was answering my calls. I used to provide traditional medical advice on a WeChat [social media] group, and I had a female contact located in Beijing. Even after the group chat was closed down, we were still in contact. So I sent her my sister’s telephone number, asking her to help me in my inquiries. I believe my nephew answered the phone [when she called] and told her that my sister had been taken to a re-education camp.
RFA: When did they said she had been taken to a re-education camp?
Omer Ghoja’abdulla: At the end of 2016. [My nephew] said to her over the phone, ‘My mother is in a re-education camp, do not call us again.’ It’s been over a year since I had contact with anyone back home. She was living in Daxan village in Manglay [working as a farmer] … Her husband died in 2010 and she is 55. She has four children—the oldest is about 30 years old.
RFA: Have you tried to contact her through her mobile phone or home phone through other contacts to find out more information with regards to her detention?
Omer Ghoja’abdulla: I have tried to call her using a private number, but no one answered. At first, I thought [she might have been detained] because of me—I was involved in work that might have been used to implicate her ... She is literate in the reading of the Quran, but nothing else.
RFA: In the past when you spoke to her, did she ever say that you should return home, or that you’d better stay quiet about Uyghur issues abroad?
Omer Ghoja’abdulla: I never spoke to her directly, as I was cautious, and I wanted her to be safe ... Now, I have no idea where she is.
Reported by Shohret Hoshur for RFA's Uyghur Service. Translated by RFA's Uyghur Service.