The two-year-old son of an ethnic Uyghur couple detained in a political “re-education camp” in northwest China’s Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR) has drowned after falling through ice into an irrigation ditch in Hotan (in Chinese, Hetian) prefecture, according to local officials.
Sources recently told RFA’s Uyghur Service that Rahmutullah Shirbaqi disappeared from his home in Qaraqash (Moyu) county’s Zawa township on Dec. 21, while in the care of his grandfather, 78-year-old Matnury Mahsut, and grandmother, 68-year-old Mahtumhan Tursunniyaz.
Shirbaqi’s body was found three days later and authorities determined that he had drowned after plunging through ice covering a ditch in front of his house in Chokanjilgha village, where his grandparents had raised him since his parents were sent to the Bostankol Re-education Camp in the county seat a year earlier.
An officer at the Hotan prefecture police headquarters told RFA that she was not authorized to discuss Shirbaqi’s case, while two officials from the prefectural government said they had heard a two-year-old boy had died, but were unsure of other details.
However, a resident of a neighboring village in Qaraqash told RFA on condition of anonymity that his local ruling Communist Party secretary had recently cautioned villagers to be extra vigilant with their children because of a drowning in the area.
“He said we need to take good care of our kids at home because a boy died falling into a ditch,” the resident explained, adding that village officials said the boy’s parents had been detained in a re-education camp, where authorities have detained Uyghurs and other Muslim ethnic minorities accused of harboring “strong religious views” and “politically incorrect” ideas throughout the XUAR since April 2017.