Twenty-six year old Mehray Mezensof met her husband, Mirzat Taher in 2016 when she visited Xinjiang, China, for the first time. She fell in love with him at first sight and decided to spend the rest of her life with him. Mezensof and Taher are both Uyghurs.
Mezensof’s parents emigrated to Australia 35 years ago. While Mezensof was born and brought up in Australia, Taher now is an Australian permanent resident.
An ABC News report says that couple got married in Urumqi, Xinjiang’s capital city and Taher’s Australian visa was approved on 1st April 2017. It was around same time the Chinese government had started cracking down on the Uyghur Muslims. Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous region is home to over 11 million Uyghur Muslims. Over a million Uyghurs are believed to be detained after being targeted and indoctrinated by the Chinese authorities.
They booked their flights for Melbourne, Australia for April 12, 2017. However, on April 10, 2017, the police paid them a visit and asked Taher if he has visited a foreign country. Taher had earlier been to Turkey for a year and worked. Soon, he was taken off to the police station. He did not return home.
Taher was sent to detention camp
After the questioning, Taher was sent to a concentration camp where he spent his 10 months.
On 22nd May 2019, he was unexpectedly released. A few weeks later, the couple reunited at Uruqmi airport. Taher revealed he was brainwashed and was made to learn about the Chinese Communist Party and was asked to read books and memorise speeches. After releasing him, he was also kept under strong surveillance.
As Mezensof’s visa was expiring, the couple was unable to retrieve Taher’s passport from Chinese authority. Mezensof’s visa extension application was rejected and she had to go back to Australia without her husband towards end of 2019.
That is when the Chinese coronavirus pandemic hit.
Coronavirus and concentration camps
Mezensof could not go back to China owing to travel restrictions due to the coronavirus pandemic that originated in China’s Wuhan. The couple kept in touch through phone and video calls.
On May 19, 2020, Taher stopped responding to her messages. Panicked, Mezensof later found out that he was again taken away by the police. He was allegedly detained and sent to concentration camp where he was kept till 30th August 2020.
Taher was granted Australia’s permanent residency shortly before his release.
However, just weeks later, he was detained a third time.
Hami Police in Xinjiang issued arrest notice for Taher on 23rd October 2020. He was arrested over allegations of “organising, leading and participating in terrorist organisation” and was detained in Yizhou District’s detention centre in Hami, south-east of the capital city Urumqi.
Sentenced to 25 years in prison
In January 2021, a court in Hami heard Taher’s case. Two weeks back, in April, he was sentenced to 25 years in prison. Mezensof says her husband is sent to jail by Chinese Communist Party because he spent a year in Turkey. He is convicted of separatism. He is accused of participating in political activities to try and establish an independent country.
Mezensof dismisses it and claims he went to Turkey on a holiday and since he liked it so much there, he decided to extend his stay and live and work there for a year. She says neither she nor Taher’s family have received any written court document about her husband’s conviction.
ABC has reached out to Chinese officials but they have not yet responded. Taher’s name also does not appear on China’s Judicial Process Information website relating to legal cases. In 2017, Turkish authorities had issued a clearance for Taher that he had no criminal record. Apparently, China has a list of 26 ‘sensitive countries’ which includes Turkey and those Uyghur Muslims who have been to or are associated with these countries, are always on the radar.
For now, 30-year-old Taher is sentenced to 25 years in jail in China while his 26-year-old wife waits for him in Australia.