By Eset Sulaiman, Radio Free Asia
A 21-year-old Uyghur man has died in prison in south-central China as he was about to end an 11-month jail sentence for illegally traveling to neighboring Vietnam, his father said, suggesting he may have died under mysterious circumstances.
Abdullajan Abdulmennan, who was born in northwestern China’s Xinjiang region but was granted Turkish citizenship last year, went illegally to Vietnam in January after Chinese authorities refused to allow him to travel to Turkey.
Vietnamese authorities detained him along with three friends who travelled with him and returned them to China, where he was ordered jailed for 11 months in Pingxiang prison on the China-Vietnam border in Guangxi Zhuangzu Autonomous Region.
With only two months left of his sentence, Chinese authorities informed his family about his death in jail last week, said Abdulmennan Abdulmennan, his father, who emigrated to Turkey 18 years ago and became a citizen there.
“The Chinese police from Pingxiang prison in Guangxi Province called my parent’s home in [Xinjiang’s] Yarkand [Shache in Chinese] county and told them that my son had died in prison,” he told RFA’s Uyghur Service.
He said Abdullajan Abdulmennan was in good health when he last saw him in Vietnam earlier this year when they were making travel arrangements to go to Turkey, he said.
“When we met in Vietnam, he was so happy and so strong,” Abdulmennan Abdulmennan said. “My family and I cannot believe that he may have died from an illness.”
The boy’s relatives tried to visit him in prison several times, but authorities turned them down and would not accept clothes or money they had brought for him, he said.
A map showing Pingxiang in China’s Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region. (RFA)Turkish passport
Abdulmennan Abdulmennan, who has been a Turkish citizen for the last eight years, said after his son obtained his passport from the Turkish embassy in Beijing, he was disallowed by Chinese authorities from leaving the country to his new home.
So, he and three of his Uyghur friends, who also had Turkish passports, paid some money to agents to go via a “secret path” to Vietnam, where they hoped to reunite with their respective fathers, who were all Turkish citizens.
Once there, Abdullajan Abdulmennan met his father for the first time in 18 years. Abdulmennan had left Yarkand for Turkey when the boy was three years old.
“We both were excited, and tears filled our eyes when we met,” Abdulmennan Abdulmennan said. “We stayed in Vietnam for only one week.”
The fathers went to the Turkish embassy in Hanoi to discuss their sons’ travel arrangements.
But when they later went to the city’s airport with the boys to fly to Turkey, Vietnamese authorities detained the youths after discovering Chinese identification cards in their bags.
“At the airport, the Vietnamese immigration officers were suspicious about their new Turkish passports because there were no entry visas in them,” Abdulmennan Abdulmennan said.
Two days later, the authorities informed the fathers that police had deported the boys to China.
“If I would have known that the kids still had their Chinese IDs in their bags, I would have burned them before we went to the airport,” Abdulmennan Abdulmennan said.
In the meantime, the fathers had no choice but to return to Turkey where they took up the matter with the foreign ministry.
They later were informed that the boys had been jailed in Pingxiang prison in Guangxi.
So far, the fathers have not received a response from the ministry, Abdulmennan Abdulmennan said.
Now, his relatives in Yarkand are preparing to go to Guangxi to retrieve his son’s body.
“But I don’t know whether the authorities will allow them to take my son’s body or not,” he said.
Beatings or deaths of Uyghurs in prison at the hands of Chinese authorities are not uncommon in Xinjiang.
Many Uyghurs youths have tried to leave their Xinjiang homeland following an upsurge in violence that has left hundreds dead since 2012, and which China has blamed on terrorists and Islamist insurgents seeking to establish an independent state.
But rights groups accuse the Chinese authorities of heavy-handed rule in Xinjiang, including violent police raids on Uyghur households, restrictions on Islamic practices, and curbs on the culture and language of the Uyghur people.
Chinese president Xi Jinping announced a harsh, one-year antiterrorist campaign in the region in May, following a bombing in the regional capital Urumqi that killed 31 people and injured 90.
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