She sent her son to study abroad, believing she was preparing a better future for the family. For this “crime,” she should now spend sixteen and a half years in prison.
by Martyna Kokotkiewicz
“I spent 10 years at the university only, not to mention the compulsory schools that had preceded it, to get education on the faculty of my dream. I was born in a small town, which naturally meant I had to move away to study. At that time, there was only one place for me where it was possible to study the main subject of my choice. To make things worse, it was far from my hometown. My family represents the middle class of our society, we have always been so-called average people. However, they put every effort to make my dream come true. I moved away, my grandparents offered to pay the rent for the room I was staying in, my mother was occasionally sending me food supplies in addition to providing me with the money for food. I studied hard and succeeded, but it goes without saying without their help I probably would not be where I am now. After all those years of sacrifice, can we imagine that, as a reward for all my family has done, they… get a prison sentence?”
It may seem a scenario for a mafia movie, or perhaps a parody of these films, but if you are wondering if such a situation is possible in a real life, the CCP will provide a simple answer. There is nothing unusual about parents being punished merely for the fact of taking care of their children’s education, at least not in some parts of China. The case of Mahire Nurmemet constitutes a proof for that. Mahire, a Uyghur mother aged 39, has been sentenced to sixteen and a half years of prison. If you think there is no apparent reason for that, here is a clue: her son has been studying in a high school in Turkey.
The family comes from Urumqi, where Mahire used to work for a neighborhood community. It must be emphasized that she retired due to her poor health. This is a fact of great significance, in the light of what has already happened and may soon happen to her. Her elder son is 17-year-old and is now in Istanbul, Turkey. Mahire, however, is in a detention center in Artush, Xinjiang (that Uyghurs prefer to call East Turkestan). She is a mother of two more children, a boy of 14 and a girl of 13.
The boy has been abroad since 2014, at first in Egypt. This is where Mahire’s sister was living at that time, and she went with her son to Egypt as her younger sister was getting married. When the time came to say goodbye, Mahire decided that it would be better for the boy’s future to leave him with his aunt. Although the events in question took place before 2017, it is obvious that her homeland had ceased to be a synonym of freedom for Uyghurs long time ago. Therefore, it is not difficult to imagine that such a decision, despite being difficult, was meant to be a source of hope for a better future life for the family.
Mahire’s sister remained in Egypt for several more years. In September 2015, the family reunited one more time, Mahire came to Egypt, and his son Nureli got an opportunity to spend a week with his mother. It was their last meeting so far. In 2017, Mahire’s sister moved to Turkey, taking the boy with her. Nureli started to attend school in Istanbul, and everything seemed to be going according to the family’s plan. It was precisely at that time when China started to “make the Silk Road great again,” although in an extremely controversial way. The worst was still to come.
In June 2018, Mahire was first interrogated by the police, as the authorities started to show interest towards the fact that one of her children was studying abroad. That was the only reason for the interrogations, and the only possible “crime” that could have attracted the interest of the police. Later the same year, in November, the police did not stop at interrogations only. She was taken from Urumqi to Artush, the city where she originally came from. She has been in a detention center there even since.
It seems even unnecessary to mention that her relatives have had no direct contact with Mahire, including those who are still in their homeland. The children have been deprived of a proper care, and the relatives abroad have had no opportunity to learn more about the situation directly from her. However, according to the information they have managed to gather, in January 2019 Mahire has been sentenced to sixteen and a half years in prison.
The implication of this fact is that in some parts of the world, nowadays sending one’s child to school is a crime. Trying to secure one’s children and loved ones a better future has become a crime. When I am thinking now about all that my family has invested in my education, at the same time looking at Nureli’s sad eyes while he is appealing to the world in social media, I am feeling like I can myself be regarded by the CCP as a criminal. I used to think that it is wrong to neglect education. The CCP apparently believes that I have been mistaken. It is wrong, or at least dangerous, to know too much.
We need the world to wake up about the situation of the Uyghurs as soon as possible. There is still hope to save many lives. Mahire’s poor health status puts her in danger, but there remains a spark of hope that things can be different. According to what we know, she has not been transported to a regular prison from the detention center yet. Some may say it is not the best moment for the world to act, due to the international political and health situation. But it is the only moment we have. We shall not waste it.