World Uyghur Congress Concerned About the Fate of Patigul Ghulam
The World Uyghur Congress is deeply concerned about the fate of Patigul Ghulam, who will go on trial this week in East Turkestan on April 7th, on charges relating to her search for information on the whereabouts of her son – a victim of an enforced disappearance by the Chinese government back in 2009. We therefore call on the international community to diligently observe the process to ensure that a concerned mother is not jailed for her legal right to seek answers.
Imammemet Eli, the son of Patigul Ghulam, was initially disappeared in the days following unrest in Urumqi in 2009 and has not been seen since. His disappearance came amid a the capricious round-up of Uyghurs who were suspected to have been involved in violence. Human Rights Watch documented the disappearance of 42 men and teenage boys in the aftermath between July 6th and the end of August 2009, though it was also stated that the actual number was likely much higher.
The charges levelled against Ms. Ghulam relate to her discussion of her son’s case with overseas media, notably the Uyghur Service arm of Radio Free Asia (RFA). RFA has been at the forefront of delivering news from East Turkestan, which has been tremendously difficult to penetrate with such strict controls on information. As a result, reporters from RFA have also had family members harassed and arrested for the actions of those outside of China as an attempt at intimidation.
This is not the first time Ms. Ghulam has been harassed by Chinese authorities, as she was detained in June, 2014, allegedly for “incitement” after raising the same issue. Authorities at the time were quoted as saying that, “[she] incited the people against [the] government by raising an outcry in public”.
A number of families came forward in the years following the unrest in 2009 with accounts of missing family members. Amnesty International published an article on the third anniversary of the unrest quoting a family member at the time who had said “…there are more than two hundred families in one county in Hotan prefecture alone with disappeared relatives. Many of these families have been afraid to come forward out of fear of retribution by the authorities”.
This fear of retribution has likely prevented many others from speaking out about these crimes. The use of enforced disappearances has been condemned by much of the international community for its clear disdain for the legal rights of the accused. Six years and a half years is far too long for anyone to wait to receive answers about the fate of loved ones. The resulting trial of Patigul Ghulam stands as a further insult to a deeply concerned parent.