Uyghur refugee: “I discovered my presumed dead wife among photos of prisoners”

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Abdulrahman Hasan, 47, recently discovered his wife’s photo among thousands of photos of captive Uyghurs. The photos are part of a large-scale hack of Chinese police documents that has sparked outrage around the world. His wife Tunsagul Nurmemet has been imprisoned since 2017.

Hasan managed to flee Xinjiang and applied for asylum in the Netherlands. He hopes that the European Union as well as the Netherlands will introduce sanctions against China.

His wife Tunsagul Nurmemet was a housewife until his arrest. She has been accused by Chinese authorities of rounding up groups of people and stirring up unrest, according to hacked documents released last week as Xinjiang Police Files† She was sentenced to sixteen years in prison. “My wife never did anything wrong,” Hasan says. “She was taking care of our two children.” He hasn’t had contact with her for five years.

Two months ago, Hasan was approached by BBC investigators who were preparing a release about the photos and thousands of documents extracted from hacked Chinese police computers. For this, fourteen media organizations collaborated with the German researcher Adrian Zenz.

BBC investigators showed him the picture of his wife. “I couldn’t believe my eyes,” Hasan said. “I thought she was dead. On the one hand, I was happy that Tunsagul was still alive at least in 2018. On the other hand, I was overcome with deep sadness because I know that she is in a concentration camp where people are being tortured.”

Hasan was forced to leave his wife and children behind

Hasan was a businessman who, among other things, exported fruits and textiles, owned several houses, and owned a football training institute in which he invested money. He shows pictures where he can be seen in happier years; at the opening of the football club, gathered with family and friends around a lavishly laid table. Hasan had a prosperous life. “Before I had a family and I was a businessman,” he says, “now I’m a poor refugee in the Netherlands.”

In December 2016, Hasan returned from a business trip from neighboring Kyrgyzstan, where he sold t-shirts and buttons in the market. He took a few weeks off and wanted to visit his family. It was during this period that Chinese authorities began imprisoning Uyghur men on a large scale in what they called “re-education institutions”.

In Ürümqi – the capital of Xinjiang – Hasan learned that he was wanted and should not go to his hometown of Kashgar. He decided to immediately turn around. He had to leave behind his wife and two young children, they do not have a passport and therefore could not leave the country. “It was a tough decision,” Hasan says.

Hasan’s relatives are all in concentration camps

Soon her father, brothers and an uncle disappeared in the camps. Besides his wife Tunsagul, his 73-year-old mother Amine was also arrested. Hasan was at his wit’s end. He went to demonstrations with a protest sign on which he had pasted photos of his wife and mother. Below was the text: “Shoot my mother and my wife. I will pay for the bullets. Hasan: “The stories I heard in the camps were so horrible that I wanted them dead rather than tortured for years.”

His mother was released soon after for some inexplicable reason. Hasan thinks because he brought international attention to the plight of his wife and mother. Her children, now aged eight and four, live in the house with her sister and mother. From time to time, he sees photos of them on social media, showing that they are still alive. “But I can see in my children’s eyes that they are unhappy,” he says. “They no longer have parents and they live in a society where all Uyghurs are considered criminals. What kind of life do you have then?”

Hasan has no contact with his family. “If they were to communicate with me, they would be in big trouble,” he says. “I know people who call or contact their families through social media and therefore ended up in one of the camps.”

Hasan hopes that the hacked documents that have now been made public will finally spur the European Union into real action. “It is now clearer than ever that my wife and all of these others are imprisoned and oppressed by the hundreds of thousands of innocent civilians who have been wrongfully detained. For years the West has looked away from the Uyghurs. now time to change course.”

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