Uyghur Student Webmaster Detained at Beijing Airport

Updated at 11:05 a.m. ET on 2013-07-23

A Uyghur ethnic minority student who once worked as a volunteer for a website of outspoken Uyghur scholar Ilham Tohti has been detained by police at the Beijing airport as he was preparing to fly to Turkey to continue his studies, his friend said Monday.

The whereabouts of Mutellip Imin, 24, are not known one week after state security police "invited him for tea" at Beijing International Airport at 1:20 a.m. on July 15, his girlfriend, Atikem Rozi, said in a report on the Uyghur Online website.

Being "invited for tea" is a euphemism used by police when taking someone for interrogations and delivering warnings.

The Uyghur Online website is run by university professor Ilham Tohti, a vocal critic of the Chinese government’s treatment of Uyghurs, whose homeland is in China's northwestern Xinjiang region and who complain of discrimination by the authorities and the country’s majority Han Chinese.

Mutellip Imin was "taken away 10 minutes before his departure,” Atikem Rozi said in her report entitled “Mutellip, where are you?"

The flight left for Istanbul without the sociology student of Istanbul University who had gone to Beijing to meet with Atikem Rozi during his summer vacation.

Ilham Tohti, who is a professor of economics at the Central Nationalities University in Beijing, told RFA's Uyghur Service that Mutellip Imin had worked as a volunteer for his website for about a year before he left to further his studies in Turkey. .

“We have been trying to find out what happened to him ... But so far we have no news,” he said.

Interrogated over religious beliefs

Atikem Rozi said that a week after Mutellip Imin arrived in Beijing, they contacted a female student in Northern Nationalities University in Ningxia to return some money he had borrowed from her.

"She told us that she had been detained by the police and interrogated because of her religious beliefs. And she asked us not to contact her anymore."

The student also said that police asked her about Mutellip Imin and sought her help to find him.

"So, she told Mutellip Imin to be more careful. Now what we had worried about has happened," Atikem Rozi said.

She quoted Ilham Tohti as saying that “even if Mutellip did not do anything that violates state security, the state security police can detain him and charge him with any kinds of crimes that he did not commit.”

Ilham Tohti was himself detained in February at the Beijing airport and prevented from taking a flight to the United States to take up a post as a visiting scholar at Indiana University.

Following Beijing's refusal to allow him to leave the country, unknown hackers attacked his website, which is hosted overseas and discusses Uyghur social issues and news from Xinjiang, briefly shutting it down.

He has spoken out for better implementation of China’s regional autonomy laws in Xinjiang, where Uyghurs say they have long suffered ethnic discrimination, oppressive religious controls, and continued poverty and joblessness.

Another of Uyghur Online's webmasters, Shohret, was detained and interrogated recently by police and forced to disclose Uyghur Online webmaster passwords, sources said.

Reported by Mihray Abdilim for RFA’s Uyghur Service. Translated by Mamatjan Juma. Written in English by Parameswaran Ponnudurai.

CORRECTION: An earlier version of the story had inaccurately said that Mutellip Imin is currently working as a webmaster for Ilham Tohti's website.