Uyghur Entrepreneur Confirmed to be Held in Internment Camp in Xinjiang

Mahmutjan Memetjan, a real estate investor and food market operator, has been detained for four years.
2021.08.23
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Guards monitor Uyghur inmates at a reeducation camp in northwestern China's Xinjiang region, December 2018.
Photo courtesy of Bitter Winter

A leading Uyghur entrepreneur who returned from a visit to the United States in 2016 and vanished without a trace has been confirmed detained by authorities in an internment camp in the Xinjiang region of northwestern China, sources familiar with the case told RFA.

Mahmutjan Memetjan, 35, was picked up by authorities in 2017, the year authorities in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR) launched a vast network of internment camps that has incarcerated some 1.8 million Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities accused of harboring “strong religious views” and “politically incorrect” ideas, RFA has learned from a source in the region.

The real estate investor, also known as Mehetjan Alqut, had lived in in Yengisheher (in Chinese, Shule) county, in Kashgar (Kashi) prefecture, where he ran the Kashgar Alqut Property Company.

Chinese authorities have targeted and arrested numerous Uyghur businessmen, intellectuals, and cultural and religious figures in the XUAR for years as part of a campaign to monitor, control, and assimilate members of the minority group purportedly to prevent religious extremism and terrorist activities.

Mahmutjan and other entrepreneurs went on a group business trip to the U.S. on April 8-22, 2016, according to the source inside the XUAR. During the visit, his then-pregnant wife, Parida Ilgar, gave birth to the couple’s fourth daughter, who became a U.S. citizen and received a passport.

In May 2017, not quite a year after the delegation returned home, Yengisheher county police detained Mahmutjan and questioned him about his travels to the U.S., said the source, who declined to be named in order to speak freely.

A police officer in Yengisheher county told RFA that Mahmutjan’s case had been handled by Yu Tiantian, a Han Chinese police officer from the same work unit.

The police officer from a station near a 16-storey apartment and retail building called Alkut owned by Mahmutjan said he knew that the businessman had been taken into custody and detained four years ago, but did not know the reason for his arrest.

Since his detention and disappearance, Mahmutjan has been held in a “reeducation” or “training center,” China’s euphemistic terms for the XUAR internment camps, said the officer, who did not provide his name.

He also said he was unaware of the situation of Mahmutjan’s wife and children, including their U.S.-born daughter.

Asked about the state of Mahmutjan’s businesses, the police officer said: “Some are open, some are closed” following the businessman’s detention.

In addition to his holdings in Yengisheher, Mahmutjan also reportedly opened and operated an organic food market called Iztap in the Dawan neighborhood of the XUAR’s capital Urumqi (Wulumuqi), and a home interior company on the city’s Yan’an Road.

The organic food market and the home interior company may have been shut down by the authorities following Mahmutjan’s disappearance in 2017, said the first source.

Mahmutjan’s wife is currently living in Urumqi, where she has faced great difficulties since her husband’s detention, the source said.

Reported by Shohret Hoshur for RFA’s Uyghur Service. Translated by the Uyghur Service. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.

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