A Uyghur mother was duly authorized by the Chinese government to visit her son who was studying in Turkey. Later, the visit was regarded as a crime and she was arrested.
by Martyna Kokotkiewicz
Imagine you have a child, and you decide to send him or her abroad to provide them with better educational opportunities. Then, during their studies, you go to visit them in their current place of residence. Do you see anything extraordinary in such a course of events? Probably not. Unless we add that, as a result of such a family reunion, you go to prison, and never see your family again—for many years.
Bitter Winter readers already know that such cases are not rare among the families of the Uyghur ethnic minority in China. When you are a Uyghur, whatever you do might be perceived as a crime by the government. And, if you have relatives abroad, that your deeds will be criminalized becomes a certainty. We have already reported many heartbreaking stories of Uyghur families torn apart, but there is no end. Jevlan Shirmemet (born 1991, from Ghulja), has shared with Butter Winter the story of his detained mother.
Jevlan Shirmemet came to Istanbul in 2011 in order to study. He enrolled on one of Istanbul’s universities in 2012, and graduated in 2018. However, the period of happiness brought about by this success was short. All because of the fact that his mother visited him in Turkey in 2013. In so-called normal circumstances, there would be nothing special to be found in this visit. However, we are talking about ethnic minorities in China. After 2017, keeping in touch with relatives abroad has been listed as a crime for the Uyghurs.
Jevlan’s mother, Suriye Tursun, was born on March 21, 1964 in Korgas, in what Chinese call Xinjiang and Uyghurs prefer to call East Turkistan. Before her detention, she had worked as a civil servant, and there was not much time left before her retirement. In 2011, her son left home to gain academic experience in Turkey. As would probably be the case for every mother in the world, she was curious to examine the conditions her son was living in.
Joining a group of tourists, she travelled to Turkey in 2013 to visit her son. It goes without saying that she had obtained all the permissions required to travel abroad legally. To put it simply, she travelled with the government’s permission. Some years later, the same Chinese government considered her trip a criminal offense, and sentenced her to 5 years in prison.
As Jevlan told us, in November 2018 he lost contact with his family. He noticed that Suriye had erased him from the contact list on WeChat, the main instant chat application permitted in China (fully controlled by the state). Then, in December 2019, he was informed that his mother had been detained, first in what we now know to be the concentration camps, called transformation through education camps, and then in formal prison. His father and brother had been also detained, the reason being again merely the fact one of their relatives was studying abroad. They were released in the last months of 2019, but according to the information received by Jevlan, his father’s health had seriously deteriorated in detention, while the condition of his brother is unknown. This does not apply, however, to Suriye Tursun. Due to her visit in Turkey in 2013, her “crime” was seen as more serious by the authorities, and she was given a prison sentence.
Jevlan has remained in Turkey. He is fighting. He has been taking all the actions possible in such a dramatic situation, from recording and sharing testimonials to reaching out to Chinese diplomatic units in Turkey. In one of his most touching testimony videos, he has promised he would not give up until his innocent mother has been set free. It has been a huge struggle, as Chinese officials have been trying to also criminalize his deeds, claiming he has participated in illegal anti-Chinese activities during his stay in Turkey—and “in Egypt.” The problem is, Jevlan has never been to Egypt, nor has he taken part in anything illegal in Turkey.
It seems at times that the CCP officials are trying to convince themselves that what they are doing is right. However, they will not deceive courageous, determined young people such as Jevlan. And he is not alone, as well as Suriye Tursun is not the only mother separated from her loved ones. The fight for the restoration of their fundamental rights continues.