Asia-Pacific

Australian family’s fear for famous Uighur father-in-law missing in China

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Comedian Adil Mijit has not contacted anyone since November last year – and his family fears for the worst.

Arslan Hidayat is waiting for a full stop.

His father-in-law Adil Mijit would often work in remote parts of China, with limited reception – but at the very least, he would send a full stop in a WeChat message to his family.

“Wherever he worked, he would always send some sort of message as soon as he got internet connection. We had a deal, just send a full stop," Mr Hidayat told SBS News.

The Australian citizen has not heard from Mr Mijit, a well-known comedian, since November 2018.

“He’s like Hollywood-level famous. He’s not just known among Uighurs, he’s known all over China,” he said.

Arslan Hidayat has contacted DFAT for advice.
Arslan Hidayat has contacted DFAT for advice.
SBS News

“We were in contact with him at least every 24-hours, so when that started to not happen, we got worried, especially after the third day.”

Mr Hidayat and his wife Adile first became concerned in November last year – a month which should have been one of the happiest in their lives.

“My second daughter was born on the first. My mother-in-law was here with us in Istanbul, we sent pictures to him back in Xinjiang on that day, and he was crying, he was so happy,” Mr Hidayat said.

“The next day, we sent more photos, and got no response. So, it will be difficult to celebrate my daughter’s birthday because we will always be reminded that the following day, her grandfather was taken.”

Mr Hidayat grew up in Sydney’s west, and worked as a music teacher, but moved to Istanbul in 2011, to make it easier for his wife to see her parents.

His father-in-law performed as part of the Xinjiang Theatre Opera Troupe – and over the course of his 30-year career, he has become a household name in Xinjiang.

“It’s amazing to think such a prominent person could be locked up,” Mr Hidayat said.

“We don’t know where to start, we don’t know his location, and we don’t know if he is alive or dead.”

Many Uighurs around the world want to know what happened to the comedian.
Many Uighurs around the world want to know what happened to the comedian.
SBS News

Mr Hidayat has contacted the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT), who confirmed in an email they have raised the case with Chinese authorities, but there is little they can do as Mr Mijit is not a citizen.

“The Chinese Embassy has provided…general advice that such cases should be raised directly with the Public Security Bureau in Xinjiang. There may be risks associated with this approach, and we want to be clear that the Australian Government is not recommending this particular course of action,” a DFAT case worker wrote in an email.

“We will continue to seek opportunities to raise our concerns with China about the mass detention of Uighurs.”

In 2017 there was the first signs of a coordinated crackdown in Xinjiang – new restrictions prohibiting long beards came into place, and there were reports some Uighurs had their passports confiscated.

Mr Mijit thought his celebrity status, as well as his work with the Chinese Communist Party, would make him “untouchable”.

“He surprised us in 2017 for Ramadan, but I told him: ‘dad, other scholars, poets, and singers are being taken, why don’t you stay with us?’”

Mr Mijit often worked in remote areas.
Mr Mijit often worked in remote areas.
SBS News

“He told me he had to be there for his people, to at least give them some humour because everyone is miserable.”

Uighurs are a Turkic ethnic minority who primarily practice Islam – human rights activists have warned Uighurs are being forced to cut off contact with their families, and renounce their faith.

The Chinese government has denied people are being forcibly detained, and has consistently said foreign media is misrepresenting what are simply vocational training centres.

Just weeks ago, the Chinese government indicated for the first time the centres are not permanent, and will close when needed.

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