Authorities in northwest China’s Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR) have sentenced the wife of a jailed Uyghur taxi driver and mother of two to at least three years in prison for weeping in front of a foreigner, saying she had disclosed “state secrets,” according to sources in the region.
In April 2020, RFA’s Uyghur Service reported on the case of Shireli Memtili, a taxi driver in Ghulja (in Chinese, Yining) city’s Hanbing township who was detained in November 2018 and sentenced to 200 months in jail in May 2019 for driving the religious figure—likely a non-state-sanctioned imam—and receiving “illegal religious education” from him.
Sources told RFA at the time that Memtili’s mother Aygul Turahan was sentenced in early 2019 to a decade in prison after she was detained for moving her household registration, or hukou, from Ili Kazakh (Yili Hasake) Autonomous Prefecture’s Tekes (Tekesi) county to Ghulja’s Hanbing neighborhood nine years earlier.
However, RFA recently learned from a source claiming inside knowledge of the situation in Ghulja that Memtili’s wife, Munira, who was left alone at home with her two children, was taken to a police station on a June night last year with a black hood over her head and later charged with “revealing state secrets.”
According to the source, who spoke on condition of anonymity out of fear of reprisal, the day before her disappearance, Munira went to the Ghulja city Public Security Bureau, where she requested permission to videochat with her husband, who is serving his sentence in Shiho (Wusu) city, in Ili Kazakh Autonomous Prefecture’s Tarbaghatay (Tacheng) prefecture. The police reportedly denied her request.
As she returned home from the city to Hanbing, a businesswoman from Kyrgyzstan was sitting next to her on the bus, the source said. The two began speaking, and when the businesswoman asked about her husband, Munira could not hold back her tears.
The bus driver reportedly warned Munira not to “upset the mood of the foreign guests.” The source said Munira was taken into custody by police on the basis of the bus driver’s report and was later convicted of leaking state secrets for “masterfully” informing foreigners that her husband was being held in captivity.
The source said that just one month after Munira was arrested, police removed her clothes from her unoccupied home in Hanbing’s “New Community” district. Seeing this, neighbors surmised that Munira might have been transferred to an internment camp or prison from a detention center, but no one dared to ask about her case lest they themselves be targeted.
By the end of 2020, the door to Munira’s family home was sealed off, leading neighbors to speculate that she had been sentenced to prison. The source said he later heard that Munira was handed a 10-year jail term.
Authorities in the XUAR are believed to have held up to 1.8 million Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities in a vast network of internment camps since early 2017 as part of a policy of mass extralegal incarceration in the region.
While Beijing initially denied the existence of the camps, China last year changed tack and began describing the facilities as “boarding schools” that provide vocational training for Uyghurs, discourage radicalization, and help protect the country from terrorism.
But reporting by RFA’s Uyghur Service and other media outlets suggest 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.
As international scrutiny over the situation in the XUAR has grown, Beijing has increasingly “graduated” detainees to jobs largely under forced labor conditions or handed them lengthy jail sentences in kangaroo courts on trumped up charges.
RFA called the police station in Hanbing township to inquire about Munira’s case, however, as with past investigations regarding her husband and mother-in-law, personnel there declined to answer questions.
However, an officer who answered the phone at a police station in Ghulja city confirmed that Munira had been convicted and sentenced to prison.
“Are you talking about the girl from Hanbing?” she asked when provided with a description of Munira and questioned about whether she had been targeted by authorities for crying in front of a foreigner.
The officer initially referred further questions to the city’s Justice Department, but when asked whether Munira had been sentenced to 10 years in jail, she refuted the claim.
“That’s a lie—it was for three years,” she said, adding that she could not provide any further details about the case.
RFA’s earlier reporting revealed that Munira’s mother-in-law, Aygul Turahun, is serving a sentence in Baykol Prison in Ghulja city. RFA’s source suggested that Munira might also be held in Baykol or in Ghulja’s Yenihayat Prison.
Prior to authorities sealing off of the family home in Hanbing’s New Community, Munira’s two sons, both aged four, were handed over to their grandfather, Memtili Abdureshit, a butcher who lives in Ghulja’s Üchderwaze, or Three Gates district. Sources last year told RFA that Abdureshit was detained at the same time as his wife Aygul and sent to an internment camp for one year and four months before being released.
In the past four years, locks and seals on the doors of family homes have become a common sight in the XUAR. Several foreign tourists who visited the region last year discovered that communities in the cities of Kashgar (Kashi) and Turpan (Tulufan) had become ghost towns and documented such seals on the gates of residential courtyards—information they later shared online as evidence of the mass incarceration occurring there.
Reported by Shohret Hoshur for RFA’s Uyghur Service. Translated by the Uyghur Service. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.