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Uyghur woman who escaped forced abortion said to have died in prison

A Uyghur woman who escaped from a hospital in northwestern China’s Xinjiang region to avoid a forced abortion in 2014 has died in prison, a Uyghur who lives in exile and a village police officer said.

Authorities ordered Zeynebhan Memtimin to terminate her pregnancy, but she fled the hospital in Keriye (in Chinese Yutian) county in Hotan (Hetian) prefecture where the procedure was to take place.

In 2014, a Uyghur from the county who was then living in exile told RFA that authorities took Zeynebhan from Arish village to a hospital for a forced abortion. RFA later determined through interviews with sources in Xinjiang that Zeynebhan had escaped from the hospital to save her unborn child.

When the child turned three in 2017, authorities detained Zeynebhan in an internment camp along with her husband, Metqurban Abdulla, who had helped her escape from the hospital, on charges of “disturbing the social order” and “religious extremism” for avoiding the abortion, the Uyghur in exile told RFA last week.

Both were sentenced to 10 years in prison, the source said.

The Uyghur source said that contacts in the region and a former neighbor confirmed last week that Zeynebhan died in 2020.

The woman’s funeral was conducted under heavy supervision by Chinese officials, who did not disclose the reason for her death to her family and didn’t provide any information on her detained husband, the Uyghur source said.

Chinese authorities in Keriye county contacted by RFA declined to comment on the matter.

A police officer in Arish village confirmed to RFA that Zeynebhan and Metqurban had been sentenced to 10 years, but he didn’t provide any information on what happened to their four children after they had been incarcerated.

“They were sentenced to 10 years in prison and were serving their terms in Keriye Prison,” he told RFA.

He also said that Zeynebhan was 40 years old when she died in prison from an illness caused by having multiple births, and that she had been jailed for violating family planning policies.

“Since she had multiple births, it’s natural that she died from illness,” he said.

RFA’s Uyghur Service reported in 2014 that Metqurban agreed to pay a fine for Zeynebhan to have a fourth child in violation of China’s family planning policy for ethnic minorities, which limited families to two children. But instead, authorities tried to force her to terminate the pregnancy.

At that time, the Uyghur Service aired a series of eight reports on authorities forcing women in Keriye county’s Lenger, Arish and Siyek villages to have abortions.

Of the 70% of Uyghurs in Arish village who were arrested and detained in 2017 for allegedly engaging in illegal religious activities about 10% were being held because they violated family planning policies, according to the Uyghur source in exile.

Uyghur activists say Chinese authorities in Xinjiang often arrest Uyghurs accused of violating family planning policies as a pretext for meeting their arrest quotas.

The Chinese government implemented population control measures for Uyghurs, including forced sterilizations and abortions as part of the crackdown that began in 2017.

Muslim Uyghur and other Turkic minority women who have been detained in Xinjiang’s vast network of internment camps but later released have reported being raped, tortured and forced to undergo sterilization surgery.

Such population control measures, among other repressive policies in Xinjiang, were cited by some Western parliaments and the United States as evidence that China is committing genocide against the Uyghurs.

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