By : Jevlan Shirmemmet
Can you be sent to prison for visiting your son abroad? If you are a Uyghur in China, the answer is yes.
I am Uyghur. I was born and grew up in Suydung town, Qorghas county, in the Ili Kazakh prefecture of the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region.
I came to Turkey to study in 2011. I then began studying law at Istanbul Ticaret University in 2012, before graduating in June 2018. Since 2016, because of the Chinese Communist Party’s policies, I have never returned to my homeland. I now live and work in Istanbul.
My mother’s name is Süriye Tursun. She is 56 years old, a civil servant, accountant, and employee of the management office at a trade bureau in Qorghas county. But right now, she is being detained in a Chinese concentration camp, after she came to visit me at my school in Turkey. I have not heard from her since January 2018.
Soon after that, my family members deleted me from their WeChat. I haven’t dared to try to contact them in case I put them in danger. Eventually, I learned that all of my family had been taken to the camps simply because I was studying in Turkey, and because my mother had come to visit me. In December 2019, my father Shirmehmet Xudayar and my brother Irfan Shirmehmet were both released. But my mother was sentenced to five years in jail.
I want to ask the Chinese authorities, if visiting Turkey is considered a crime, why doesn’t China persecute the millions of Han people who visit Turkey on a daily basis? Isn’t China’s constitution meant to guarantee “equality among all ethnic groups”? Why do only Turkic Muslims face such cruel treatment?
I contacted the Chinese consulate in Istanbul, but they didn’t respond. When I wrote to China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, I only got silence. I do not know if the Chinese government’s silence is because they are afraid to admit their crime, or because they are convinced that I cannot do anything.
After two months, I was eventually contacted by a diplomat from the Chinese consulate. He called me to threaten me. He told me that my father and brother refused to talk to me, as they believed that I had been in contact with an anti-China organisation in Egypt. They told me that if I tell them which organisation I have been in contact with, they will help me contact my mother and family. But I have never even been to Egypt.
The Chinese government is lying to me.
In June 2020, the Chinese authorities even forced my father to call me, to tell me to be quiet. But I won’t be quiet, not until my mother is free, and not until I can have normal contact with my family. I beg every country in the world, the UN, and every international human rights organisation to help me save my mother.
Jevlan Shirmemmet is a Uyghur law graduate living in Turkey. Shortly after his mother visited him in Turkey, she disappeared into a Chinese concentration camp. The rest of his family was also detained. Now Jevlan is appealing for their release.