A Uyghur man portrayed in a video by official Chinese media as a successful example of “vocational training” in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR) is a university-schooled architect who held a lucrative job prior to his detention, according to a former classmate.
Rejepniyaz Hebibulla, a Uyghur from Qaraqash (in Chinese, Moyu) county, in the XUAR’s Hotan (Hetian) prefecture, attended high school in Jiangsu province’s capital Nanjing and Xidian University in Shaanxi province’s capital Xi’an, where he graduated with a degree in architectural engineering.
He was then hired back home as the lead computer programmer for the Alrazi Food Production Co., schoolmate Nurmemet Ahmet recently told RFA’s Uyghur Service.
Despite his educational and professional achievements, Ahmet said that Hebibulla was detained in one of the XUAR’s internment camps, where authorities are believed to have held up to 1.5 million Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities accused of harboring “strong religious views” and “politically incorrect” ideas since April 2017, but which Beijing describes as “boarding schools” that provide vocational training and protect the country from terrorism.
Reporting by RFA’s Uyghur Service and other media organizations has shown that those in the camps are detained against their will and subjected to political indoctrination, routinely face rough treatment at the hands of their overseers, and endure poor diets and unhygienic conditions in the often overcrowded facilities.
Ahmet told RFA that he learned of Hebibulla’s detention after seeing him in a television program produced by the official China News Service as part of a series that aired at the end of 2018 and in March this year, highlighting the success of the “vocational training centers” in the XUAR.
In the video, a reporter interviews a “student” at one of the internment camps in Qaraqash named Alahan Yusufu, who is studying how to “shop online.”
“The first thing Alahan did, once he learned how to shop online, was to buy his mother a jacket,” the reporter tells the audience, before Yusufu explains that he is “studying very hard” and wants to “master this course, so that when I leave here I can go help the people in my neighborhood to purchase things on the internet.”
“At the start of the video, [Hebibulla’s] photo is shown, and in a later scene, he is shown working at a computer,” Ahmet, who fled the XUAR to Turkey in December 2016 and now lives in Germany, told RFA about his friend.
“He is very knowledgeable about the operation of computers and doesn’t need training on how to shop online … His Chinese is impeccable, and his English is nearly perfect as well, so there is no situation in which he would require any training in a camp.”
While Ahmet said he was unsure of why Hebibulla had been detained, he suggested that it could have to do with how his religious beliefs informed the work that he did at Alrazi Food Production Co.
“As he was working in a grocery production company, it is possible there was a dispute regarding [foods characterized as] Halal and Haram,” he said, referring to dietary restrictions that guide what Muslims can and cannot eat.
A staff member who answered the phone at the government office in Hebibulla’s home district told RFA that he was unaware whether the computer programmer resided there, and declined to answer further questions about him.
Hebibulla is one of many Uyghur professionals and intellectuals who have been identified as detainees in XUAR internment camps, and who defy claims by authorities that those held in the facilities are in need of “vocational training.”