This man’s family vanished in China’s most oppressed region. Last month he saw his son for the first time in 2 years, in a Chinese propaganda video.

Four-year-old Abduleziz Tohti and his father, Abdurahman Tohti. Abdurahman Tohti via Uyghur Bulletin/Twitter

Alexandra Ma, Business Insider US February 5, 2019

  • China is waging an unprecedented crackdown on the Uighurs, a majority-Muslim ethnic group in the western region of Xinjiang, China.
  • Authorities are suspected of detaining up to 2 million people in the region and sending their children to state-run orphanages.
  • Abdurahman Tohti, a 30-year-old Uighur man living in Turkey, hasn’t heard from his wife and kids since they disappeared after a visit to Xinjiang in 2016.
  • Last month he saw a video of his 4-year-old son, Abduleziz, in what appeared to be a video filmed inside a state-run Chinese orphanage.
  • He has taken the unusual step of discussing his missing family with INSIDER because he’s “ready for any consequences … I lost everything.”
  • China justifies the orphanages as a way to lift children from poverty and stop them from becoming terrorists. Beijing says its treatment of Uighurs is an anti-extremism strategy.

Abdurahman Tohti hasn’t seen or heard from his wife, his son, or his daughter for almost three years, for reasons entirely out of his control.

He and his family are Uighurs, the majority-Muslim ethnic minority based in the Xinjiang region in western China.

Authorities from Beijing, under the guise of counterterrorism, have in recent years covered the entire region with facial-recognition cameras and are accused of placingup to 2 million residents in prison-like camps.

Chinese authorities are reported to have physically tortured Uighursturned them into forced laborers, and compelled them to sing pro-Chinese songs in order to be fed. The region – known to Uighurs as East Turkestan – has been described as a “21st-century police state.”

China has routinely denied inflicting physical or psychological damage on Uighurs in these camps. Instead it has referred to them as “reeducation camps” or “free vocational training” that make life “colorful.”

Tohti left his village of Besh Tugmen in Aksu prefecture, Xinjiang, in March 2013 and settled in Istanbul that October after studying in Egypt for a few months.


Footage purportedly of a reeducation camp for Uighurs in Yingye’er, Xinjiang, taken by Bitter Winter magazine in August 2018. Bitter Winter/YouTube

He married his wife, Peride Yasin, in Istanbul in February 2014. They had two children – a boy, Abduleziz, and a girl, Nadire.

In August 2016, Yasin and the children traveled to Xinjiang to visit family. Tohti hasn’t heard from any of them since.

He and his wife were supposed to speak after she landed, but she mysteriously deleted him from WeChat – China’s most popular messaging platform – almost immediately after she arrived in China, he told INSIDER.

INSIDER’s conversation with Tohti was translated from the Uighur language to English by Alip Erkin, an activist in Australia at Uyghur Bulletin. (Uyghur is an alternative spelling of Uighur.)

Tohti later heard from people on the ground that his wife was arrested upon arrival and sentenced to ten years in prison. He has never heard anything official about their fate, and he said he is “completely in the dark.”

Nadire, his youngest, was 5 months old.


Tohti, right, and his wife, Peride Yasin. Courtesy of Abdurahman Tohti

Tohti still doesn’t know what his wife’s charges are, but he thinks they could be related to her spending time in Turkey, an act for which China has been known to punish Uighurs.

The Turkish government has long offered a space for Uighurs to seek refuge and stage protests against China. Beijing’s response has been to threaten to tank economic relations between the two countries.

China’s grip on Uighurs has worsened since Yasin disappeared, with authorities using increasingly flimsy reasons to lock the people up – including having a beard, wearing long skirts, or setting their clocks to two hours after Beijing time.

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