Uyghur official jailed after refusing land acquisition

Abdumanap Hakimjan was protecting farmers in Ghulja, which is now the center of a similar land dispute.
By Shohret Hoshur for RFA Uyghur
2024.05.10
Uyghur official jailed after refusing land acquisition A worker walks behind a tractor during planting of a cotton field, as seen during a government organized trip for foreign journalists, near Urumqi in western China’s Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, April 21, 2021.
Mark Schiefelbein/AP

A Uyghur official from Ghulja county in northwest China’s Xinjiang region who went missing after opposing development on local farmland is serving a prison term for incitement, Radio Free Asia has learned.

News of the arrest and jailing of Abdumanap Hakimjan, deputy head of the Ghulja County Natural Resources Department, comes amid ongoing tensions over land in the county, where residents say Chinese developers are forcing them to hand over their farms for little or no compensation.

Hakimjan, who is in his 50s, was arrested and imprisoned in 2019, and is currently serving a 10-year sentence in Karabugra Prison in Kunes county, Ghulja county police officers and an anonymous official told RFA, when questioned about his status.

"You won't be able to contact him,” claimed one officer, who said her police station is located next to the Natural Resources Department where Hakimjan used to work. “He has been sentenced and taken to Kunes.”

The officer who, like others interviewed for this report, declined to be named due to security concerns, told RFA she was unaware of the reason for Hakimjan’s arrest and referred further questions to higher-level authorities.

An officer who answered the phone at the Jelilyuz City Police Department in Ghulja confirmed that Hakimjan is serving time at a prison in Kunes. “He is currently serving a sentence near Karabugra,” he said. “He was arrested due to political issues. I heard he was sentenced to 10 years.”

‘Development measures’

Beginning in the 2000s, Chinese authorities in Xinjiang instituted "development measures" carried out under the banner of "concentrating land in the hands of agriculturalists.”

In practice, the policy permitted the appropriation of Uyghur farmland by migrants from China, leaving Uyghur farmers without a primary means of livelihood and forcing them to work as laborers on land they once tilled for themselves.

The situation prompted some Uyghur cadres in the Chinese Communist Party to protect the interests of the people they served, to the displeasure of their Chinese counterparts.

An undated photo of a building being demolished in Kasghar's Old City. (Courtesy RFE/RL)
An undated photo of a building being demolished in Kasghar's Old City. (Courtesy RFE/RL)

An anonymous official with knowledge of the situation told RFA that in 2013, during Hakimjan’s tenure as deputy head of the Ghulja County Natural Resources Department, a Chinese company sought to purchase farmland along the Kash River to develop a tourist site that included office buildings and staff quarters.

The Uyghurs who owned the land met with Hakimjan to express their reluctance to sell it and frustration over the pressure they were facing to do so.

‘Two-faced’ official

In response, Hakimjan refused the Chinese company’s land acquisition proposal, citing legal provisions that prohibited the construction of housing on farmland, the official said.

He assured the farmers that their concerns were valid and advised them to also report the situation to the head of the Natural Resources Department.

Hakimjan’s refusal angered Chinese leaders with close connections to the company, but they were unable to present an argument as to why his decision should be overruled.

Speaking to RFA, a disciplinary inspection officer with the Natural Resources Department confirmed that Hakimjan’s decision was justified, stating that “it is absolutely forbidden to build residential buildings on cultivated land.”

Nonetheless, the official said, Hakimjan’s actions ultimately led to his placement in a “re-education camp” in 2017, when authorities began conducting mass arrests of Uyghurs deemed to be opponents of Chinese rule, and his eventual sentencing in 2019.

Hakimjan was viewed as having condoned and encouraged “disruptive collective behavior,” which was used at his court judgment as evidence of his “two-faced” nature – a term used by the Chinese Communist Party to describe officials or party members who are either corrupt or ideologically disloyal to the party.

Ghulja land dispute

Confirmation of Hakimjan’s whereabouts follows the circulation on social media last month of a video showing unidentified people purportedly harvesting farmland belonging to Uyghur residents of Ghulja’s Baytoqay and Chighliqmazar villages.

In the video, a woman claims that the land is “being seized without the farmers’ consent” and without compensation.

Residents of the two villages, situated along the Ili River, say they have garnered interest from Chinese companies since the 2000s. A surge in tourism development in the Uyghur region in recent years has brought several developers to the picturesque location, they say.

A dog is chained next to the site where a now demolished mosque used to stand in Karakax outside Hotan, Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, China, April 29, 2021. (Thomas Peter/Reuters)
A dog is chained next to the site where a now demolished mosque used to stand in Karakax outside Hotan, Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, China, April 29, 2021. (Thomas Peter/Reuters)

RFA Uyghur spoke with a source with knowledge of the situation who said that when residents saw their land being confiscated last month, they promptly reported it to the Ghulja County Natural Resources Department. But the source, who declined to be named citing fear of reprisal, said officials “seemed indifferent to their concerns.”

When RFA contacted the Ghulja County Natural Resources Department, an official confirmed that “we did receive some complaints regarding farmland in Chighliqmazar,” but said the matter was “not under our jurisdiction.”

However, the official said that the Land Administration Bureau, which investigates such cases, had refrained from intervening because the land in question “is owned by Chinese companies.”

Sold without consent

The source with knowledge of the situation told RFA that Chinese authorities had instructed residents to sell their land to the Chinese companies, promising them greater profitability than farming, but the residents had refused, saying it was integral to their livelihoods and identity.

Nonetheless, he said, village cadres confiscated the farmland and sold it to the Chinese companies at a reduced price, without obtaining consent from the residents.

A security officer on duty in Baytoqay, who said he had been stationed in the area “to protect the land,” confirmed that it had indeed been expropriated.

He said residents were being compensated, although he acknowledged that there was “a dispute over the price.”

“The land is being utilized regardless of their consent,” he said, adding that the Chinese companies “have to proceed urgently.”

The security officer said residents will receive 30,000 yuan (US$4,150) for their wheat fields and 60,000 yuan (US$8,300) for fields growing produce.

Translated by RFA Uyghur. Edited by Joshua Lipes and Malcolm Foster.

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