In separate statements, all three denied the allegations and called on Chinese authorities to allow their families to reunite.
Beijing strongly rejects any allegation of human rights violations in Xinjiang and insists that its actions are justified to combat religious extremism and prevent terrorism.
Mamutjan Abdurehim, who lives in Australia, said he had been separated from his wife and two children for five years after being trapped in Xinjiang following a routine trip to Kashgar to renew his travel documents .
Children now live separately from their grandparents in Xinjiang. Mamutjan believed his wife had been sent to a detention center.
From their home in Italy, Ablikim Mamtinin and his wife Mihriban Kader said they had to flee China in 2016, fearing Mihriban would face forced abortion and sterilization after she fell pregnant with their sixth. child.
The couple left their four eldest children behind as they were told it would be too risky to try and apply for visas for the whole family. Once in Italy, they were able to obtain Italian visas for the children, now aged 12 to 17, but the siblings were arrested by authorities in Shanghai in June 2020 when they attempted to retrieve the documents from the consulate.
The four children were then placed in a state-owned orphanage in their hometown of Payzawat, where the Chinese government says they “lead normal lives and attend local schools.”
During a trip to Xinjiang in March, CNN tracked down the two groups of children. Mamutjan’s 10-year-old daughter Muhlise broke down in tears when asked about her parents. “I don’t have a mom with me right now, nor do I have my dad. I just want to be reunited with them, ”she said.
CNN also spoke with Ablikim and Mihriban’s second eldest child, Yehya, during a video call. He said he wanted to be reunited with his parents and, during the call, could be seen being coached by a voice off camera.
CNN asked the Chinese government for a response to the families’ claims on March 15, ahead of the article’s publication, but received no response. CNN sent the government detailed follow-up questions on March 22, ahead of the story’s release, but has yet to receive a response.
But in a one-page statement sent to CNN on April 2, the Chinese government accused the three parents living outside China of having “extremist religious” beliefs and of abandoning their children by refusing to return to Xinjiang. Uyghurs and other ethnic minorities often say they fear immediate detention upon return.
The Chinese government said that Mamutjan’s wife Muherrem, the only one of four parents currently in China, had been sentenced to nine years in prison for “inciting ethnic hatred”, claiming to have been influenced by “religious extremist views” ” from her husband.
Authorities have provided no evidence for their allegations, nor any additional details about Muherrem’s conviction. Both groups of parents vehemently deny the Chinese authorities’ accusations.
“We would never give up on our children, but the Chinese government wouldn’t let them come to us,” Mihriban and Ablikim said in a statement.
‘Bring us our children’
Uyghurs living abroad take great risks in exposing allegations of human rights violations by the Chinese government in their home country.
After CNN spoke to 10-year-old Muhlise, Chinese public broadcaster CGTN aired an interview with the young girl where she said she and her younger brother were happy to be living with their grandparents.
Mamutjan said the Chinese government’s claims that he was a terrorist were “laughable” and urged Beijing to release his wife.
Following the story’s broadcast by CNN, a video of Zumeryem, the eldest of Mihriban and Ablikim, 17, appeared on Twitter in which she said her parents had “abandoned” her and her brothers. and sisters.
In an edited clip, Zumeryem said she did not want to leave Xinjiang. “I love everything and everyone here … I live very well here, and my life is really colorful and happy every day,” she said.
CNN later learned that the children had been questioned several times after CNN attempted to visit them. In particular, the children were reprimanded for taking a picture showing themselves with a sign in Chinese saying “Mum, dad, we miss you”, which appeared in the CNN story.
In its statement to CNN, the Chinese government declared that Mihriban and Ablikim were “key members of a violent terrorist group”, without providing any evidence, and that they had been brainwashed and trained other members of the group. their organization.
Mihriban and Ablikim said that if they had extremist religious views, Italy would not have granted them asylum.
“We reject the Chinese government’s baseless accusations and ask them to bring our children back to us! This is the only request we have!” they said in a statement.
During a session of the Foreign Affairs Committee in the Italian parliament on April 8, Italy’s Under-Secretary for Foreign Affairs Manlio Di Stefano said the four children had valid visas and the country’s embassy in Beijing was “ready to receive them”.
Di Stefano said the Italian government was trying to resolve the “delicate” issue and reunite the family. “The case … deserves maximum attention,” he said.