China Imprisons Uyghur Woman for Crying over Jailed Husband

Members of Women Muslim Uighur minority hold placards and flags of east Turkestan as they demonstrate to ask for news of their relatives and to express their concern about the ratification of an extradition treaty between China and Turkey, near China consulate in Istanbul on March 8, 2021 during the …
OZAN KOSE/AFP via Getty Images

The wife of an imprisoned Uyghur taxi driver was herself arrested and sentenced to at least three years in prison for weeping while she told her story to a foreigner during a bus ride.

The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has been working hard to conceal the oppression of the Uyghurs from outsiders.

Radio Free Asia (RFA) reported Wednesday that Munira Memtili’s husband Shireli was arrested in 2018 and sentenced to 200 months in jail in May 2019 because he accepted a “religious figure” as a passenger and allegedly received “illegal religious education” from him. The Uyghurs are predominantly Muslim.

Shireli Memtili’s mother is also reportedly in prison, serving a ten-year sentence for “moving her household” from one county to another, presumably without the necessary official permission.

According to RFA’s sources, Munira Memtili, left alone to care for the couple’s two four-year-old children, drew the attention of officials in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR) when she asked the police for permission to hold a video chat with her husband, who is imprisoned in a different city.

When the police refused her request, the heartbroken Munira took a bus ride home and wound up telling her story to her seatmate, a businesswoman from Kyrgyzstan, which borders on the XUAR. Munira burst into tears, drawing a sharp reprimand from the bus driver to avoid upsetting “the mood of foreign guests.”

The bus driver turned Munira in to the police, who reportedly showed up at her home the next day, threw a black bag over her head, dragged her down to the station, and charged her with “revealing state secrets.” The authorities described her as a subversive agent working “masterfully” to undermine the Chinese state.

A month later, the police ominously returned to the Memtili home to collect all of her clothing, and later they sealed the door to the residence. Her neighbors assume she has been taken to one of the XUAR’s infamous concentration camps, but according to RFA, “no one dared to ask about her case lest they themselves be targeted.” Visitors to the XUAR have reported seeing entire residential complexes, and entire towns, sealed in the same manner after the residents were herded into concentration camps.

One local source told RFA he heard rumors Munira could be jailed for up to ten years. Local officials refused to discuss her case, or those of her husband and mother-in-law, with RFA beyond confirming she has been jailed and insisting the sentence is only for three years.

The Memtili children were reportedly placed in the care of Shireli’s father, who was arrested at the same time as his mother but released after spending over a year in the camps.

Uyghurs in Australia were outraged on Wednesday when the Chinese embassy in Canberra held a press conference to debut a series of propaganda films about the XUAR unsubtly entitled Xinjiang Is a Wonderful Land. The films used Uyghurs to deny all of the human rights complaints leveled at China, which Chinese officials said were based on “fake news and misinformation.”

Australian Uyghur residents, some of whom have spent time in the camps or been forcibly separated from their families, like Munira and Shireli Memtili have, reacted with shock and anger to the Chinese embassy presentation. 

“I call on the Australian government and the public to be shamed for allowing the Chinese government to have such a big platform in a democratic country to spread its political agenda,” said East Turkistan Australian Association president Nurmuhammad Majid, who said he personally has at least twenty relatives imprisoned in the Xinjiang camps.

Several Uyghur women who fled Xinjiang told the Atlantic on Thursday their imprisoned husbands and other family members are used as leverage against them by the Chinese government, and they feared Beijing’s growing power is making formerly supportive nations such as Turkey more reluctant to grant Uyghurs asylum. 


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