The daughter of a Uyghur police officer who has won commendation for detaining Uyghurs in “re-education” programs in China’s Xinjiang region is serving a 10-year prison sentence for watching Turkish movies on her cell phone, the woman’s father and a Uyghur knowledge of the situation said.
Almire Erkin, 32, a former hospital nurse, is the daughter of Erkin Tursun, a Uyghur police officer in Kashgar (in Chinese, Kashi), who confirmed that she was jailed in 2017.
“A problem was discovered from her phone and she was taken to re-education,” he told RFA.
A Uyghur source who knows the family told RFA that Almire is serving her sentence in a women’s prison in Urumqi (Wulumuqi), capital of the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR).
Although Tursun has close relatives who are top Chinese government officials in local government, he said he was not able to spare his daughter from a prison term for the “crime” of watching Turkish movies.
Almire’s aunt is an official in the Kashgar government, and her uncle, Enwer Tursun, is mayor of Makit (Maigaiti) county in Kashgar prefecture.
Tursun recalled that Enwer told him it was “not a big deal” that Almire had watched Turkish movies and that authorities would release her.
When RFA contacted Tursun at a phone number provided by the anonymous source, he confirmed that his daughter, his oldest child, had been sentenced to 10 years in prison and was serving her term in Urumqi.
Tursun also said that he had received awards from the municipal government for outstanding performance as a police officer in the past 10-12 years, including one for taking in 2,000 people for “re-education.”
Since 2017, Chinese authorities have detained an estimated 1.8 million of mostly Muslim Uyghurs and other native Turkic peoples in a vast network of internment camps for “re-education,” purportedly to prevent religious extremism and radicalism. But evidence quickly emerged that inmates had been deprived of their freedom under the pretense of political education.
The U.S. and the parliaments of several Western governments have declared that the detentions and China’s other rights abuses in Xinjiang constitute genocide and crimes against humanity.
Tursun said his daughter had been sentenced without a trial and that he had heard about her prison term from her husband.
“They came and read the verdict in the neighborhood community,” he said. “They said her sentence was on account of being connected to Turkey.”
Tursun also told RFA that he had urged residents to “protect state secrets” before a United Nations delegation led by U.N. human rights chief Michelle Bachelet arrived in the XUAR last week for a visit to Kashgar and Urumqi.
In the run-up to the visit, the Chinese government launched a campaign warning Uyghurs not to talk about or discuss “state secrets,” meaning the detention of Uyghurs or other measures to repress them.
“We are telling people that when they see the U.N. delegation team, they should speak about how our situation is good and how our lives have turned around for the better,” Tursun said.
Uyghur rights groups condemned Bachelet’s failure to denounce the Chinese government’s repression in the XUAR as genocide during her visit.
On Sunday, Campaign for Uyghurs based in Washington, D.C., called for Bachelet’s immediate resignation, saying her visit was “a Potemkin-style sham” and accusing her of neglecting her mandate to the world to stand up for human rights.