The suspicious death of an ethnic Uyghur plant biology researcher at a detention facility in Xinjiang in December 2020 has garnered attention on social media.
Mihriay Erkin, 29, returned to China in June 2019 after quitting her job at Nara apex university of science and technology in Japan, fearing for the safety of her parents in Xinjiang. in February 2020, she was arbitrarily detained and sent to the Yanbulak detention facility in Kashgar.
Her relatives blamed Chinese authorities for her death. They say they only recently learned of the news. China denies all allegations of persecution of Uighurs and calls the detention camps “vocational skills education training centers” where extremists are de-radicalized.
“I learned of this almost six months after my niece Mirzy Ayi was killed by Chinese authorities, but I still don’t know if she has a real grave,” said Abduweli Ayup, Elkann’s uncle and a Uighur rights activist based in Norway.
Ayup launched a social media campaign last week with Uighur activists to commemorate Elkann and demand that China disclose the circumstances surrounding her death.
When Mirjai Ayup decided to leave Japan in 2019, her father, Erkin Ayup, a former Chinese government official, and her aunt, Sajidigul Ayup, a former high school teacher, had been detained by Chinese authorities in Xinjiang for nearly two years.
The oldest child in her family, Ayupkin moved to Japan in 2014 to pursue a master’s degree in plant biology at the University of Tokyo.
Abduwailey Ayup said he had warned Ayken not to return to Xinjiang, but Ayup ignored that advice after local Chinese police used her mother to lure her back. Her last words to him before she left Japan were, “If I die, if I have a grave, mark my grave with a bouquet of peonies.”
“My niece died in (a) detention center, and her father and aunt were sentenced to 12 and 14 years in prison, respectively.” He said. He also added that it was unclear whether Elkann’s mother and brother were also in detention, as he had lost contact with them.
According to a June 10 report by Amnesty International, China’s extreme measures against the Uighur and other Muslim minorities in Xinjiang constitute “crimes against humanity.
“Chinese authorities have established one of the world’s most sophisticated surveillance systems across Xinjiang, as well as a vast network of hundreds of ‘education and rehabilitation’ centers – in effect, detention camps. – comprising a vast network,” the report said.
At a press conference in Beijing on June 11, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin accused the human rights watchdog of misleading the public with its “lies” on Xinjiang.
“Its so-called ‘report’ is just another addition to its ‘catalogue of lies,'” Wang said of Amnesty International’s report.
Uighur activists have asked China for information about how Elkann died in detention, and neither Wang Wenbin nor any Xinjiang officials have responded.
U.S. Uighur rights activist Rushan Abbas is also the executive director of the Washington-based advocacy group Campaign for Uyghurs. She told VOA that Elkann’s fate marks a growing effort by Beijing to crack down on the Uighur diaspora who speak out about human rights abuses in Xinjiang.
“My heart breaks for Mirzy Ayi, Abduwai Li and the millions of Uighurs around the world who face the same fears and trials,” Abbas told Voice of America.
Her sister, Gulshan Abbas, a retired doctor in China, was arbitrarily detained and sentenced to 20 years in prison in 2019.
“I am scared for my sister and pray she remains strong, but my love for my sister and our people gives me the strength to fight even harder,” Abbas said.
According to a recent report jointly released by the Oxus Society for Central Asian Affairs and the Uyghur Human Rights Project, many Uighurs in the diaspora have been encouraged by the Chinese government through WeChat messages or phone calls from relatives Many Uighurs in the diaspora have been encouraged by the Chinese government to return to their home countries through WeChat messages or phone calls from relatives, but are arrested upon arrival.