PRESS RELEASE: WUC Deeply Saddened by the Death of Uyghur Religious Leader, Muhammad Salih Hajim, in Chinese Custody
The WUC is deeply saddened by the news of Muhammad Salih Hajim’s death this week in a Chinese ‘re-education’ camp. Muhammad Salih Hajim had reportedly been arrested 40 days ago for peacefully practicing his religion and detained in a Chinese ‘re-education’ camp. The WUC has been informed that he was subjected to torture and other forms of ill-treatment during his imprisonment, which may have contributed his death.
Muhammend Salih Hajim was born in 1936 in Atush, East Turkestan. He was a prominent Uyghur religious leader and scholar and a well-respected figure in the Uyghur community. He had worked to translate the Quran into the Uyghur language, with the permission of the Chinese government, and his translation was published in 1986. Many assumed that his cooperation with the Chinese government would allow him to peacefully practice his religion and ensure his safety, but this has sadly not been the case.
Mr. Hajim’s death has occurred in the midst of a massive crackdown by the Chinese authorities on the Uyghur people in general and especially on their right to freedom of religion. Hundreds of thousands (possibly millions) of Uyghurs have been arrested across East Turkestan and sent to ‘re-education’ camps for peacefully practicing their religion, expressing themselves freely, or for having any dissident relatives or associates.
Deaths in custody of political prisoners, dissidents as well as innocent civilians in Chinese prisons and ‘re-education’ camps are happening with alarming regularity. Nobel Peace Prize winner Liu Xiaobo died in a Chinese prison in July 2017 after his medical condition was allowed to deteriorate without sufficient care and he was not permitted to seek more effective treatment overseas. In December 2017, it was reported that 2 young Uyghurs died in Chinese custody in uncertain circumstances after voluntarily returning to China while studying in Egypt.
Whether they were executed or the died as the result of neglect, torture and appalling conditions is impossible to say with any certainty. The Chinese government refuses to release of bodies of Uyghurs who die in prison, depriving their relatives of any chance of knowing how their loved ones died and of the opportunity to give the victims a proper burial and to say their final goodbyes.
These cases are likely only a tiny fraction of the total number of deaths in custody in China, as thousands of Uyghurs have disappeared in Chinese prisons and ‘re-education’ camps. Due to the refusal of government officials to reveal any information about the whereabouts or well-being of disappeared Uyghurs and the fact that families who push for answers are punished and subjected to reprisals, the truth is covered up and government officials continue to act with impunity.
With no accountability or access to justice and with serious human rights violations becoming the norm in Chinese prisons and camps, a prison sentence in China is starting to become a death sentence.
The WUC remains very concerned for the hundreds of Uyghur political prisoners currently serving lengthily prison sentences and the estimated 1 million Uyghurs being held in ‘re-education’ camps across East Turkestan. The massive number of Uyghurs detained, the routine abuse and human rights violations and the increasing number of deaths indicate a crime against humanity is being orchestrated by the Chinese government.