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Prominent Uyghur journalist said to be serving 15 years for ‘political crimes’

A prominent Uyghur journalist who went missing in November 2017 is serving 15 years in prison in northwestern China’s Xinjiang region for “political crimes,” his son and authorities in the region told RFA.

Qurban Mamut, the former editor-in-chief of the popular Uyghur journal Xinjiang Civilization, disappeared several months after he and his wife returned home after visiting their son, Bahram Sintash, at his home in Virginia in 2017, RFA previously reported.

Chinese authorities had kept Mamut’s imprisonment and sentence a secret since they arrested him, said his son, a police officer and a Chinese court official in Xinjiang.

Mamut’s arrest coincided with a Chinese government crackdown on Uyghurs and other Turkic Muslims in Xinjiang. In some case, authorities have not disclosed sentencing terms from the families of the jailed Uyghurs.

Mamut, who is now 71, retired in 2011 after working for decades as the journal’s editor-in-chief, Sintash said.

His son tried to obtain information about his father’s disappearance by discussing his case with reporters across the globe and providing testimony to U.S. lawmakers, but he was unable to learn what exactly had happened to him.

“None of these efforts helped me to get any information on my father,” Sintash told RFA in February when he learned from his older sister that Mamut was alive but serving 15 years in prison.

When RFA contacted Chinese officials at the Cultural Affairs Bureau in Urumqi (in Chinese, Wulumuqi), Xinjiang’s capital, where Mamut had worked as an editor, they declined to provide information on his situation.

A police officer in Urumqi told RFA that he was aware that Mamut had been sentenced but said he could confirm the length of prison term only after he received approval.

“I can tell you about his situation after I get approval from my bureau chiefs,” he said.

Previous RFA reports on jailed Uyghur intellectuals, businessmen and other socially prominent people have indicated that since 2017 Chinese authorities have returned Uyghurs to their ancestral towns in Xinjiang and detained them there in internment camps or sentenced them to prison in those jurisdictions.

RFA contacted police in Kuchar (Kuche) county, Aksu (Akesu) prefecture, where Mamut is from and where his nephews now reside. One officer in the county’s seventh district confirmed that the editor was in prison.

“Qurban Mamut was sentenced to 15 years in prison for political crimes,” the police in Kucha told RFA in a phone call. “We received the [official] document on his sentence almost two years ago.”

A Chinese court official in Urumqi also confirmed that Mamut was serving a 15-year term but said he didn’t know in which detention center.

“I heard it was for 15 years,” he said. “I don’t know what prison he is in since I took this position recently.”

Sintash expressed deep concern about his father’s health now that he is confined to a “hospital prison” where detainees receive medical treatment while they are handcuffed to their beds and under increased supervision.

“I don’t know what hospital prison is or what kind of place it is … but after hearing the news I am more concerned about my father,” he said. “When his 15-year prison term ends, he will be in his 80s if he comes out from the Chinese prison live.”

Translated by RFA’s Uyghur Service. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.