Confirmed Uyghur sports coach arrested by Chinese authorities in Xinjiang — Radio Free Asia

A Uighur sports coach who worked at a university in northwest China’s Xinjiang region was arrested by Chinese authorities in 2017, Uyghur sources with knowledge of the situation and officials in the region said.

Behtiyar Abduweli worked at Ili Pedagogical University, also known as Yili Normal University, in the city of Ghulja (in Chinese, Yining). He is the son of the late Abduweli Jarullayov, a Uyghur singer and playwright.

Behtiyar Abduweli is one of more than 20 educators at the university who a previous RFA report said to have been detained. All the names of the educators have not been made public.

A university disciplinary committee officer and a Uighur who lives in Ghulja but did not want to be named for security reasons said authorities arrested the athletic trainer in 2017.

“I heard that Behtiyar had also been taken. You know, physical education teacher Behtiyar,” the Uyghur source said.

A Chinese government official in Ghulja confirmed that Abduweli was arrested five years ago because of his prominent role in Uyghur society.

Since 2017, CChinese authorities have targeted Uyghur intellectuals, businesspeople and cultural and religious figures, imprisoning many in a vast network of internment camps in what Beijing says is an effort to prevent religious extremism and terrorist activities.

The United States and the parliaments of other Western countries have, however, declared that such actions constitute genocide and crimes against humanity.

The University mesh

Uyghur educators at Ili Pedagogical University have long influenced Uyghur society through their academic research and teaching, as well as their adherence to Uyghur traditions and customs.

More than 30 Uyghur teachers from the university organized a mesha social gathering that celebrates Uyghur culture and traditions, in the 1990s and early 2000s. Events typically include poetry, music, dance and conversation, the Uyghur source said. The rallies were organized by Abduweli and Abdullah Ismailthe Chinese Communist Party secretary of the school’s Marxist Institute who is also detained.

Their mesh encouraged more Uyghurs in Ghulja to appreciate Uyghur customs, but worried Chinese officials who believed the gatherings were not in line with Chinese Communist Party policy.

But the government did not explicitly ban educators from holding the gatherings because there were no clear government rules or regulations prohibiting the mesh.

In 2017, as Chinese authorities intensified their crackdown on Uyghurs, they officially declared that the mesh is an indication of “religious extremism” and a “propaganda platform of ethnic separatism.”

As a result, authorities began investigating university professors who participated in the rallies, and Abduweli was the first to be arrested, the Uyghur source said.

An official from the Education Department of Ili Pedagogical University declined to comment on Abduweli’s arrest.

A former Ghulja educator named Yasinjan, who now lives in Turkey, told RFA that Abduweli and Ismail, along with two other educators – Nijat Sopi and Dilmurat Awout — were all active members of the university mesh.

Abduweli criticized the Chinese authorities for flooding the stadium where members of the university mesh played football matches in 1997, saying the action would affect the social harmony of the community, Yasinjan said. At Abduweli’s the outspokenness of 25 years ago was defined in 2017 by Chinese authorities as “opposing the Chinese government” and “inciting ethnic tensions in society”, he added.

Behtiyar Abduweli was the leading man in the mesh teachers’ rally,” Yasinjan said. “He was the national level referee in sports games. He was highly respected among his peers both at school and in Uyghur society.

Abduweli also ran a private canteen on campus and offered free food to some students with disabilities. Abdureshid Hamitanother detained educator from the university, also worked with Abduweli in the canteen, Yasinjan said.

Another reason authorities detained Abduweli was that he had collected and kept his father’s writings, he added.

Abdulweli’s “crimes” also included “encouraging other students who hold ethnic separatist ideas”, said the same Uyghur source who declined to be named.

A staff member of the university’s political science department initially tried to answer questions posed by RFA, but when he heard Abduweli’s name he said anxiously that he was not aware of his case. The staff member suggested contacting local law enforcement for details.

Translated by FRG Uyghur. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.

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