Prominent Uyghur Musician Arrested on Unknown Charge

Radio Free Asia, 2 November 2017

By Kurban Niyaz – Popular Uyghur singer and musician Abdurehim Heyit has been arrested without official explanation by authorities in northwestern China’s Xinjiang region, sources say.

News of Heyit’s arrest earlier this year was delayed in reaching outside contacts due to communications clampdowns imposed in the politically sensitive region as Chinese authorities continue to crack down on expressions of Uyghur cultural and national identity.

Speaking to RFA’s Uyghur Service, Uyghur performing artists living overseas expressed shock and sadness at the news, calling Abdurehim an important contributor to Uyghur culture.

“I learned that he had been arrested in March, and his colleagues later confirmed the news,” U.S.-based Uyghur poet Tahir Hamut told RFA.  “We were very sad, but we couldn’t ask about his situation.”

“Under current [Chinese] policies, it is impossible to determine whether he is now in prison or in a political re-education camp or whether he has been forcibly disappeared.”

“No one dares to ask,” he said.

Tahir said friends told him that Abdurehim had been arrested because of his performance of a song called Atilar, or “Forefathers.” The song had previously been cleared by government censors, though, he said.

“Whether it is Uyghur intellectuals, artists, writers, or poets: nobody is being spared from the current purge.”

‘A powerful role’

Also speaking to RFA, London-based Uyghur artist and singer Rahima Mahmut called Abdurehim “one of the best Uyghur singers and musicians,” adding she was horrified by the news of his arrest.

“Abdurehim Heyit was a state artist, and all of his songs were approved by the Chinese government,” she said. “None of his songs were banned before.”

Uyghur artists and writers have traditionally played a powerful role in “awakening the Uyghur people in the past,” she said.

“This is what scares the Chinese government.”

“But China is pursuing a dead-end policy, which will only intensify tensions and sharpen divisions [in Xinjiang],” she added.

“This is not in China’s interest.”

Reported by Kurban Niyaz for RFA’s Uyghur Service. Translated by Alim Seytoff, Written in English by Richard Finney.