A retired Uyghur driver who disappeared in northwest China’s Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR) more than four years ago and was believed held in an internment camp has been confirmed dead by Chinese authorities.
The rare confirmation is in response to an inquiry by the United Nations, according to his daughter.
China’s government rarely acknowledges inquiries by foreign authorities or international bodies seeking clarification on the status of missing persons within its borders, particularly ethnic Uyghurs.
Fatimah Abdulghafur, a Uyghur poet and activist living in Australia, recently told RFA’s Uyghur Service that she only learned of the death of her father, Abdulghafur Hapiz, earlier this month.
She only knew of this nearly two years after it occurred because the Un Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances (WGEID) made a formal inquiry to the Chinese government after registering his disappearance in April 2019.
“A letter came directly from the UN and they said the contents of the letter came from the Chinese government,” Abdulghafur said.
“The PDF they sent showed his name, his passport number, and his household registration in Kashgar, and it said he died of pneumonia and tuberculosis on Nov. 03, 2018,” she added.
No information was provided about whether Hapiz had been detained or was interned at the time of his death.
Abdulghafur’s brother and sister both of whom had been registered as missing with the WGEID—were not mentioned in the communication. Her brother is thought to have been detained at an internment camp, while her sister is believed to have been placed under house arrest with her mother.
Abdulghafur told RFA she had last spoken with her father on April 25, 2016 via the Chinese messaging platform WeChat.
Abdulghafur said that her younger sister, who lives in Turkey, told her she had learned from a source inside the XUAR that their father had been taken to a camp in March 2017.
Abdulghafur tried multiple methods over the past several years to publicize the cases of her family members and to seek information on their whereabouts, including through interviews with media outlets and making inquiries to human rights lawyers in China and other countries, before registering them with the WGEID in April last year.
She said she learned in May 2019 through sources in the XUAR that her brother, who she believes was targeted by authorities because he had travelled to Turkey and taken the holy Islamic hajj pilgrimage to Mecca, had been released from the camp he was placed in.
However, she only learned about her father’s death earlier this month after the Chinese government responded to the WGEID inquiry.
Abdulghafur called her father “an open-minded thinker” who was straightforward in expressing his opinions and said she believes that his direct knowledge of government abuses over the past several decades was the reason for his detention.
“He always had his finger on the pulse of what was going on,” she said.
Abdulghafur said that she has assisted close to 100 Uyghurs in filling out applications to the UN’s WGEID to search for information about their missing family members.
She has also begun a formal collaboration with staff of the Uyghur Transitional Justice Database in Norway to help others attempting to locate their lost loved ones in the XUAR. (Source: RFA)