A young Uyghur man who was arrested after he published a series of videos that went viral criticizing Chinese authorities over rights abuses in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR) has been transferred to the region’s capital after spending a month in a Nanjing prison, according to sources.
Miradil Hesen was arrested three days after his videos went public in September in eastern China’s Jiangsu province where he said he had been sought by police since August 2018 for downloading Instagram—which is blocked in the country—to his cellphone.
A listener recently told RFA’s Uyghur Service that Hesen was transferred to the XUAR capital Urumqi after a month in a prison in Nanjing, the seat of Jiangsu located around 300 kilometers (185 miles) up the Yangtze River from Shanghai and China’s former national capital during the Ming dynasty.
Authorities in Jiangsu confirmed to RFA that Hesen had been sent to the XUAR, but said they were unaware of his condition.
“The current situation of Miradil Hesen, who was taken into custody on charges of slandering China, is that he has already been sent back to Urumqi, Xinjiang,” one police officer based in Nanjing told RFA, although she did not provide the exact criminal charge the young man was being held for.
“He’s already been sent back to Xinjiang—that’s what I know of the situation,” a Public Security Bureau officer from the city said.
Other officers confirmed that Hesen had been held in the “Nanjing detention center” for a month before he was sent to the XUAR.
“Miradil Hesen was held in a Nanjing detention center … It’s just the Nanjing detention center. It has no other name,” said a police officer in Nanjing.
Another Public Security Bureau officer from Nanjing also said that Hesen had been held “in a detention center” in Nanjing but was unable to clarify for how long.
An employee of a municipal detention center in Nanjing told RFA Hesen was interned there before authorities relocated him.
“His name is Muradili Aishan,” she said, using Hesen’s Chinese name.
When asked if Hesen had been sent to Urumqi, the employee responded: “He definitely has, that’s clear.”
In six videos posted to YouTube between Sept. 2 and Sept. 4, Hesen—from the XUAR’s Aksu (in Chinese, Akesu) prefecture—slammed the authorities for abuses on his mother, who he said was forced to undergo sterilization that he claimed led to uterine cancer, and his grandfather, who has retired as a village secretary but may have his government pension stripped.
His criticism in the videos were accessible by people in Xinjiang, based on interviews by RFA. Usually, such videos would have been removed promptly by the authorities.
Uyghurs in exile say it’s remarkable that a Uyghur inside China would be able to film this and then share it on sites like YouTube.
Appearing disheveled and troubled by the alleged abuses of his family and his community, Hesen said that he had graduated from university in Jiangsu but was made to return home to Aksu in early 2018 to “register” with authorities after they pressured his parents.
Speaking at times in Uyghur, Mandarin Chinese, and English, Hesen says in the videos that he fled to Jiangsu after being contacted by police in his home district of Dapsen, in Onsu (Wensu) county over the Instagram download.
“The purpose was to arrest me and send me to an internment camp, but I escaped to Jiangsu,” he says. Authorities are believed to have held up to 1.8 million Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities in a vast network of internment camps in the XUAR since April 2017, often for similar acts they label signs of “extremism.”
In the videos, Hesen mentions details about his mother, Tursungul Tohtiniyaz, whom he claims sought cancer treatment at the Hospital of Oncology in Urumqi in 2017 after complications related to forced sterilization.
“I’m sharing this today to inform you of the bad things that the CCP [the Chinese Communist Party] is doing to Uyghur women in Uyghurstan,” Hesen said in one video, using a name preferred by some Uyghurs for their ancestral homeland.
Hesen also discussed family planning campaigns that German researcher Adrian Zenz said in a June report had led to a dramatic increase in recent years in the number of forced sterilizations and abortions targeting Uyghurs in the region, suggesting they may amount to a government-led campaign of genocide under United Nations definitions.
RFA was able to verify some of the details cited by him in his videos after talking to several officials in Onsu county, including his mother’s formal complaint against an administrator of the hospital where she was treated for cancer.
In addition to fleeing for his own safety, Hesen said he had traveled to eastern China as part of a bid to get information about what is happening in the XUAR out to the rest of the world.
Trail goes cold
RFA called several offices in the XUAR in an attempt to find out where Hesen was transferred after he was sent back to the region. An official from the XUAR Traffic Police claimed to be unaware of the case.
When asked where Hesen is, the officer said he did not know, adding that regional authorities had never put out a notice or held a meeting about the young man.
Attempts to reach other officials in the region went unanswered.
Hesen’s YouTube postings came a month after the BBC published a video of a young Uyghur man who risked severe punishment to take a video of himself in detention in the XUAR and later disappeared, along with his aunt, who sent the video out of the country.
The nearly five-minute video showed Merdan Ghappar, a 31-year-old Uyghur model for Chinese online retailer Taobao, shackled to a bed in filthy living conditions while political slogans are played over a loudspeaker outside his barred window.
The video, and several text messages Merdan sent, appears to show some of the best evidence yet of China’s continuing policy of mass incarceration of Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities, in contradiction of a government narrative that all detainees have “graduated” from the facilities that officials refer to as “vocational schools.”
Reported by Shohret Hoshur for RFA’s Uyghur Service. Translated by Elise Anderson. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.