Two Uyghur students missing from their university in northeastern China’s port city of Tianjin have been confirmed detained by police in their hometown in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR), according to a school official.
RFA’s Uyghur Service recently received a tip from a source with knowledge of the situation that two young Uyghur men named Zikrulla and Kadirdin may have been taken into custody by authorities in the XUAR’s prefectural-level city of Karamay (in Chinese, Kelemayi) after neither returned to the Tianjin University of Commerce (TUC) for the fall semester following their summer break.
The source, who spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisal, only provided the first names of the students, the school they attend, and their hometown. Located near China’s border with Kazakhstan, Karamay is 3,275 kms (2,010 miles) from coastal Tianjin.
RFA spoke with an officer at a police station in Karamay who refused to answer questions about the two young men before hanging up the phone.
An employee at the TUC told RFA that he was unsure of whether Zikrulla and Kadirdin were studying at the school and referred questions to another office for professors who “specialize in managing the affairs of ethnic-minority students.”
“They understand the situation of ethnic-minority students much better than we do,” the employee said, suggesting RFA contact a Han Chinese school official he identified as “Professor Jia.”
Jia referred questions about the two students to public security police, saying “they’re still in process, and we currently do not have any concrete information.”
Jia said that when Zikrulla and Kadirdin did not return to Tianjin following the summer vacation, school officials contacted their families seeking information about their whereabouts. But when the relatives refused to speak with the officials, they contacted the Karamay police.
“[The families] didn’t give us any information, so we also have been waiting for results from [public security],” he said.
“We currently don’t have any way to know the specifics of the situation. The police haven’t given us clear news. We really don’t understand the situation in Xinjiang. We haven’t connected with their public security department, because they won’t communicate directly with the university.”
However, Jia said Tianjin police received confirmation that the two students are currently being held in detention and “under investigation.”
When asked where the two young men were detained, he said school officials did not know the specific location.
“The public security department did not disclose that to us,” he said. “We really don’t know what place they’re currently in.”
Often, public security officers in the XUAR investigate detainees to determine whether their so-called “crimes” merit a stint in jail or transfer to one of the region’s vast network of internment camps, where authorities are believed to have held up to 1.8 million Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities as part of a extralegal campaign of incarceration since early 2017.
Police in Karamay reportedly told university officials in Tianjin that the final casework on the students was forthcoming, but they still have not provided any additional information.
Over the past several years, observers of the situation in Xinjiang have noted a number of cases in which young Uyghurs studying in central and eastern regions of China have gone missing. Up to now, many of those students’ identities have remained a mystery.
RFA has previously confirmed the detentions, in internment camps, of a young Uyghur named Mamtimin, who graduated from the Shanghai University of Medicine and Health Sciences, and of Rajap Niyaz, a graduate of Xi’an University.
Beginning in October 2018, China acknowledged the existence of the camps, but described them as voluntary “vocational centers” set up to combat radical Islamic terrorism. RFA’s Uyghur Service has found that detainees are mostly held against their will and forced to endure inhumane treatment and political indoctrination.
As international criticism mounted, China doubled down on assertions the program was winding down. Last month in Paris, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi said all those sent to the camps have been released and placed in employment.
“The rights of all trainees in the education and training program, though their minds have been encroached by terrorism and extremism, have been fully guaranteed,” he said during a conference at the French Institute of International Relations. “Now all of them have graduated, there is no one in the education and training center now. They all have found jobs.”
The confirmation of Zikrulla and Kadirdin’s detention follows RFA reporting from several parts of the vast XUAR that has also shown many camps still in operation, holding tens of thousands of inmates.
Last month, the Australian Strategic Policy Institute, an Australian think tank, published analysis of satellite imaging showing that China is still adding new internment facilities to the 380 internment camps it has built since 2017.
Reported by Shohret Hoshur for RFA’s Uyghur Service. Translated by Elise Anderson. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.