A Uyghur man who recorded and shared a video of himself in a Chinese detention facility has disappeared, along with his Uyghur aunt, the man’s uncle told Radio Free Asia (RFA) on Thursday.
Published by the BBC on Tuesday, the man’s video shows him handcuffed to a bed in a Uyghur detention facility in China’s northwestern province of Xinjiang, home to ethnic minorities including Uyghurs, a Muslim, Turkic-speaking people persecuted by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP).
The family of Merdan Ghappar, 31, told the BBC that he managed to keep his phone while in detention and record a series of videos of himself and his surroundings, which he then sent back to his family along with text messages he allegedly wrote detailing his ordeal.
Just two days after the British broadcaster published Merdan’s video, the man’s uncle told RFA that both Merdan and his Uyghur aunt have gone missing.
Ghappar’s uncle is an exiled Uyghur activist named Abdulhakim Ghappar, now based in the Netherlands. He says that Merdan originally sent the video to his aunt, Ayshemgul Ghappar. Ayshemgul then forwarded the video to Abdulhakim in early March.
“Abdulhakim said he and Merdan exchanged text messages relayed by Ayshemgul over the course of several days, discussing his situation in detention before all communication suddenly ceased with his nephew and sister. We exchanged messages for a week … [and for the last time] around March 9 or 10,” the report stated.
“He sent me a message and then he and my sister were just gone. I’ve heard nothing from my sister since,” Abdulhakim added.
CCP guards at the detention facility where Merdan was held “undoubtedly took his phone away,” the man’s uncle said. “It seems clear that he got in even worse trouble after sending the video—I think this is why he disappeared,” Abdulhakim speculated.
Prior to his detention late last year, Merdan worked in Foshan, China, as a successful male model.
“Taobao, the online retailer that had hired Merdan as a model, no longer has any record of him on its website, while any mention of him has been scrubbed from Baidu, China’s most popular search engine,” RFA reported on Thursday.
Abdulhakim tells RFA that he first posted Merdan’s video to Facebook in March but later removed it “as the BBC proceeded with an investigation” of the Uyghur man’s story.
In November 2019, CCP authorities told Merdan he needed to return to his hometown, Kucha, in Xinjiang “to complete a routine registration procedure,” adding that he “may need to do a few days of education at his local community,” a euphemism for Uyghur concentration camps, according to the BBC.
In January 2020, Chinese police escorted Merdan on a flight from Foshan to Kucha. CCP authorities jailed Merdan as soon as he arrived in Xinjiang.
“I saw 50 to 60 people detained in a small room no bigger than 50 square meters, men on the right, women on the left,” Merdan wrote in text messages to his aunt, according to the report.
“Everyone was wearing a so-called ‘four-piece-suit,’ a black head sack, handcuffs, leg shackles, and an iron chain connecting the cuffs to the shackles,” Merdan added.
After 18 days in the cramped jail, Merdan wrote that Communist Party authorities transferred him to a Chinese coronavirus quarantine facility after guards checked his temperature and determined he was running a fever. In quarantine isolation, Merdan managed to record a series of short videos of himself, which he later sent to his family.
CCP authorities have placed more than one million Uyghurs and other ethnic minorities native to Xinjiang in detention camps in recent years. Beijing refers to the facilities as “re-education” camps and officially denies that concentration camps exist in Xinjiang.
The CCP forces detainees to undergo political indoctrination it calls “vocational training.” Survivors of the concentration camps say they have endured or witnessed physical and psychological torture, rape, forced sterilization and abortions, and killings. Many others say they were forced into slave labor, manufacturing cheap goods for sale on the global market.