PRESS RELEASE: WUC Confirms Death in Custody of Yet Another Uyghur Religious Scholar Abdulehed Mehsum
The World Uyghur Congress (WUC) condemns the death in custody of yet another Uyghur religious scholar, which was reported by relatives early this week. 88-year old Abdulnehed Mehsum died while being held in a political indoctrination camp in Hotan prefecture in November 2017, though the death was not reported until May 27, 2018.
His death follows an incredibly worrying pattern of abuse of the upwards of one million Uyghurs arbitrarily detained in political indoctrination camps. Only scant information has emerged from the camps, but recent reporting from the Associated Press has confirmed that torture may be widely used.
WUC President Dolkun Isa speaking from Munich said that, “Mehsum was regarded as one of the most important figures for Uyghurs around the world, as he dedicated his life to teaching the strictly peaceful practice of Islam to younger generations.” Isa added that, “His death has brought about a deep sadness for Uyghurs in East Turkistan and abroad.”
Mehsum was born in 1930 in Karakash County, East Turkistan and was a prominent Uyghur religious scholar and a well-respected figure in the Uyghur community and was the nephew of Mehmet Emin Buğra, the leader of the short-lived First East Turkistan Republic from 1933-1934. He faced tremendous difficulties under Communist Party rule in East Turkistan for much of his life, despite his hope to study and peacefully practice Islam.
From 1950 to 1958, Mehsum studied Islam in Kashgar and after finishing his studies, returned to Hotan to teach. Six months after his return he was arrested and sentenced to 15 years of ‘reform through labour’ (or Laogai, a Chinese labor camp system originally modelled after the Soviet Gulag a system that did not require any judicial oversight).
After completing his sentences in 1974 and despite being forced underground, he continued teach Islam, though was arrested again in 1979 along with around one thousand Islamic Scholars and was released after one year.
In 2001 he was re-arrested along with his son and was released after two months, but was officially banned from speaking in public and lived his life under strict surveillance by the state.
In January 2004, he was arrested for the fourth time and served a five year sentence for teaching Islam to seven students, after which he spent the rest of his life home under heavy surveillance, until he was finally arrested by police at the beginning of November 2017 along with other family members, despite his failing health. Up until his death, his whereabouts were unknown.
A worrying number of deaths have now been reported in direct connection with the camps. Another prominent Uyghur scholar and religious figure Muhammad Salih Hajim died in a camp in January 2018. In December 2017, two young Uyghurs died in custody under uncertain circumstances, another was driven to suicide in February and a teenager died under mysterious circumstances in March.
On account of the recent news, the WUC strongly implores the international community to take immediate action and pressure the Chinese government to immediately close the camps. In particular, Muslim-majority states can no longer remain so silent on such an important issue.
The arbitrary detention and abuse of at least ten percent of the Uyghur population represents an infringement of international human rights norms not yet seen in the 21st century.