Turkey-based Uyghur creative director detained in China while on a family vacation

Employees and his lawyer for the Chinese locomotive firm in Turkey told Radio Free Asia (RFA) on Tuesday that a Uyghur design director was detained by Chinese officials while on a family trip to Xinjiang.

Qahar Eli, 39, left Turkey on March 27 on a month-long journey to see his parents in Turpan, Xinjiang. Eli’s company, CRRC Zhuzhou Locomotive Co., informed him that he would be allowed to return to Turkey after his trip.

China’s treatment of the Uyghur people, a Muslim minority located in the Xinjiang area, has come under growing criticism in recent years, and this arrest just adds to that attention.

A representative from Eli’s Hunan province, China-based company confirmed his detention to Radio Free Asia, calling it a “criminal case.”

Inquire with the law enforcement officials. The employee was described by RFA as adding, “Given that his situation is now a criminal case, you would need to reach out to the police department.”

According to the RFA report, a human resources worker at Eli’s employer said they hadn’t heard from him in months because of his arrest.

Eli’s lawyer, who went under the alias “Wadat,” told RFA that the family has not moved to Xinjiang and that his wife and three children are living with her parents in Turpan.

After graduating from the Beijing Institute of Education in 2010, Eli uprooted to Turkey. After acquiring the ability to communicate in Turkish, he began working for the regional branch of CRRC Zhuzhou Locomotive as a translator. After some time, he was elevated to design director and given responsibility for projects in Istanbul, Ankara, and Izmir.

The corporation is a major actor in China’s Belt and Road Initiative because of its expertise in high-speed electric locomotives and its presence in more than 50 countries.

Uyghur rights organizations have been pushing for China to be held responsible for its treatment of the Uyghur minority in Xinjiang, and this arrest comes at a time when those cries are only becoming louder. A friend of Eli’s who spoke to RFA on the condition of anonymity said that he had been to China after 2017—when the crackdown on Uyghurs began—but had never been detained before.

When RFA reached out to authorities in Eli’s hometown of Lükchün village and Pichan county, they refused to comment.

Eli, who has been in Turkey for almost a decade, is said to have maintained a low profile among the Uyghur community there, keeping in touch with just a select group of former classmates now based elsewhere.

According to Wadat’s comments to RFA, Eli’s detention may have been the result of concerns from his Chinese coworkers.

“I believe that the integration of a Chinese Uyghur into Turkish society to this extent also upset the Chinese side,” Wadat was reported as saying by RFA.

According to RFA’s investigation, Turkish ministerial-level officials with whom Eli has contacts have remained silent about the issue out of fear of China’s reaction.

The United States and the European Union, among others, have voiced concerns and condemnation of China over alleged human rights violations in the region of Xinjiang. Canadian, Dutch, British, Lithuanian, and French parliaments have all voted non-binding votes calling China’s acts genocide.

The persecution of the Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities in China has been widely criticized. Human rights organisations estimate that as many as 1 million Uyghurs have been detained without due process in a system of prison camps in the Xinjiang region of China.

Beijing rejects claims of mistreatment of Uyghurs and defends the camps, saying they are places of vocational training meant to counter religious extremism.

There is a substantial Uyghur diaspora in Turkey, where many Uyghurs have settled after escaping persecution in China. However, concerns that a 2017 extradition deal between Turkey and China, which has yet to be ratified by the Turkish parliament, may be used to persecute Uyghurs in Turkey have caused the two countries’ relations to deteriorate.