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Top Kiwi scholar speaks out for her imprisoned brother

A Uighur New Zealander who has been awarded a Fulbright scholarship is calling on the Chinese government to release her brother from prison.

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Rizwangul NurMuhammad’s brother has been detained since January 2017. Source: Q+A

Rizwangul NurMuhammad says her brother, Mewlan, has been detained since January 2017, when he was arrested by plainclothes policemen at a restaurant in Xinjiang, Western China.

“He was having his lunch during his lunch break, and then he was arrested without an explanation... nothing,” says Ms NurMuhammad.

The Uighurs are China’s Muslim minority and have been subjected to a mass surveillance and detention program. Amnesty International estimates more than a million Uighur people are detained in so-called ‘re-education’ camps. Many are subjected to torture.

Margaret Taylor from Amnesty International says the Uighurs are among the most persecuted people on Earth.

”There are cameras in the streets and apps on cell phones. Uighur people have to carry ID and if they don’t, then they can be detained also,” Ms Taylor says.

Rizwangul NurMuhammad says she doesn’t know why her brother was detained. A news report from the time says someone fitting

Mewlan’s description was arrested in Xinjiang for having previously studied languages in Turkey, despite there being no evidence he had committed a crime.

Documents obtained by the United Nations show Mr NurMuhammad was sentenced to nine years imprisonment for ‘splitting the state’.

“I do worry about him. He’s the only brother I have. And my mum is an elderly lady - she cannot have another son,” says Ms NurMuhammad.

An online petition to free her brother has garnered more than 40,000 signatures.

Rizwangul NurMuhammad was awarded a Fulbright scholarship to study at Cornell University in New York. Fulbright officials believe she’s the first Uighur New Zealander to be awarded the scholarship.

In a statement to 1 NEWS, the Chinese Embassy said Mr NurMuhammad is "now serving his sentence in Beiye prison".

“The person you mentioned was sentenced to 9 years in prison for separatist activities by China's judicial authority in August, 2017. He is now serving his sentence in Beiye prison. China is a country of rule-of-law where citizens' legal rights and interests are protected and crimes punished in accordance with law. All are equal before the law.

The embassy said Xinjiang is "enjoying sustained economic development, social stability, better living standards, unprecedented cultural vivacity and a harmonious coexistence of religions". 

It said Xinjiang-related issues are "never about human rights, ethnicity or religion, but about counter-terrorism, anti-separatism and de-radicalization".

"The government of Xinjiang Autonomous Region has lawfully fought violent and terrorist crimes while addressing the root causes and advancing de-radicalization. These measures have proven effective.

"Over the past three years and more, there has not been a single violent terrorist case in Xinjiang. They have safeguarded to the greatest extent possible the fundamental rights of the people of all ethnic groups in Xinjiang, including their rights to life, health and development, thus fully supported and endorsed by people in Xinjiang.

"Some people attempt to whitewash separatists in support of extremist terrorism under the false flag of human rights and freedom. By doing so, it is condoning and encouraging those criminal activities. It is also an insult on and a travesty of human rights," the Chinese Embassy's statement read.