A former Uyghur propaganda chief who was imprisoned on separatism charges despite being a mouthpiece for Beijing has died at age 57, according to a prefectural official and an activist who runs a nonprofit human rights advocacy group.
Ilham Rozi was arrested in 2019 and sentenced to 15 years in prison for inviting prominent Uyghurs to give lectures in early 2010s. He died on March 7, only five days after he was released from jail, said Abduweli Ayup, founder of Norway-based Uyghur Hjelp, or Uyghuryar, which maintains a database of Uyghurs detained in Xinjiang.
Many of the scholars Rozi asked to give lectures were sentenced themselves after 2017, the year that Chinese authorities began detaining Uyghurs in “re-education” camps under the guise of providing vocational training to prevent the mostly Muslim minority from turning to religious extremism and terrorism.
Ayup, who obtained information about Rozi through various channels, said officers from the Igerchi police station in Aksu city took Rozi out of a prison that operates under the auspices of the Xinjiang Construction and Production Company, a state-owned economic and paramilitary organization also known as Bingtuan, where he was serving his sentence.
The officers placed Rozi, who was gravely ill, in a nursing home for the elderly, Ayup said.
“We have obtained new information that the police took Ilham Rozi out of prison and transferred him to the nursing home for the elderly in Aksu city, which was, in fact, a new prison,” Ayup told Radio Free Asia. “It is where he died.”
Educator and speaker
Rozi was born in Shayar county and graduated from the literature department of Kashgar Teachers College in 1988, according to Ayup. After graduating, he became well-known for his social activism and public-speaking skills.
Rozi went on to become head of Shayar Middle School, chief of Shayar’s Education Bureau and director of the Aksu Prefecture Education Bureau. He was recognized as “the best public speaker” in all of the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous region 2010 and was promoted to deputy chief of the prefecture’s Propaganda Department.
Rozi not only performed China’s propaganda work, but he also educated audiences in Uyghur ideology and culture.
Authorities arrested Rozi and gave him a lengthy prison sentence after he invited writer Yalqun Rozi and poet Abduqadir Jalalidin to give lectures several times at schools in Shayar in 2012 and 2013, Ayup said.
Rozi’s children filed a petition with the regional high court, complaining that their father performed the Chinese Communist Party’s propaganda work, and that he bore no responsibility for the lectures he organized.
But the court rejected the petition, said the head of the Petition Bureau at the Aksu Prefecture Communist Party Committee, who is also a member of the prefecture’s Political and Legal Committee.
Confirmation but few details
When RFA contacted the head of the Petition Bureau, he first said he was unaware of Rozi's situation, but he later mentioned that he knew about Rozi’s death. The chief refused to disclose the cause of death.
“[T]here are some concrete things that we can talk about, and some that we cannot,” he said. “We have an order from our superiors that if some random people ask us random questions, we should not answer them.”
According to information previously obtained by Uyghur Hjelp, Rozi was arrested with his son, Behtiyar Ilham, in 2019. Ilham was “re-educated” for two years and released.
“After Ilham Rozi’s arrest, we continuously paid attention to his case,” Ayup said.
The information also indicated that Rozi was healthy before his arrest.
When RFA contacted the Igerchi police station, an officer there confirmed that police had taken Rozi to a nursing home for the elderly, where he died five days later.
“He could not meet with his family members, and we didn’t inform his family about his transfer,” the police officer said.
Translated by RFA Uyghur. Edited by Roseanne Gerin and Malcolm Foster.