Following international attention which included the protests of U.S. Congressmen, China has released a detained ethnic minority Uyghur woman who was scheduled to undergo a coerced abortion.
Arzigul Tursun, who lives in China’s northwestern Xinjiang region, is about 26 weeks pregnant with her third child. Chinese authorities tried to pressure her to have an abortion, but she refused and fled her home. According to a backgrounder from the office of Rep. Joe Pitts, authorities interrogated and threatened her relatives.
After fleeing from population control authorities, Arzigul was taken into custody on November 11. A relative was reportedly forced to sign a document authorizing the abortion, which was originally scheduled for November 13.
She then fled Gulja's municipal Water Gate Hospital, after which authorities found her at a friend’s house, Radio Free Asia reports.
Tursun’s father Hasan Tursunjan told Radio Free Asia that between 20 and 30 police cars came to the family home to search for his daughter and take her to the hospital to undergo an abortion.
“It was a big operation—and they treated us very rudely,” he said. “They confiscated all our cell phones, but I hid one. One of them was pushing my forehead and saying, ‘You have connections with the separatists in America—see if they can come and rescue your daughter or not.’”
“I was very upset at what he did to me and said, ‘I believe they will rescue us, if not today then tomorrow, and if not tomorrow then the day after tomorrow—they will eventually rescue us,’” Tursunjan said.
“My youngest son was upset and rushed to us and shouted… ‘Don't touch my father!’ The [official] immediately called a few police over and they arrested him. They took him away with a car.”
He and some family members left for a relative’s house in the city, but police afterwards took him to a neighborhood where his daughter was found at a friend’s house.
“I saw many police cars,” Tursunjan reported to Radio Free Asia. “Many people from the neighborhood were watching. My daughter was leaning against the wall of one the buildings and crying. I was very sad…I rushed to her and embraced her. I told her not to cry and wiped her tears.”
After pressure from U.S. Congressmen, Arzigul Tursun was released to her family and permitted to continue her pregnancy.
“I am all right and I am at home now,” she told Radio Free Asia after being released from the Women and Children’s Welfare Hospital in Ili prefecture.
China’s “one child policy” applies mainly to Han Chinese, the ethnic majority in the country. Under the policy, ethnic minorities, including Uyghurs, are permitted to have additional children. Peasants are allowed three children, while city-dwellers are allowed only two.
Tursun is a peasant, but her husband is from the city of Gulja so their status under the policy is unclear.
“Their experience sheds rare light on how China's one-child policy is enforced in remote parts of the country through fines, financial incentives, and heavy-handed coercion by zealous local officials eager to meet population targets set by cadres higher up,” Radio Free Asia says.
Arzigul Tursun’s treatment attracted protest from New Jersey Congressman Rep. Chris Smith, who is the U.S. House’s Ranking Member on the Congressional-Executive Commission on China. He voiced his opposition to the threatened forced abortion in a November 13 statement, saying:
"I appeal to the Chinese Government not to forcibly abort Arzigul, a Uyghur woman now in the custody of China’s population police and awaiting the nightmare of a forced abortion. The Chinese Government is notorious for this barbaric practice, but to forcibly abort a woman while the world watches in full knowledge of what is going on would make a mockery of its claim that the central government disapproves of the practice, and of the UN Population Fund pretense that it has moderated the Chinese population planners’ cruelty.”
The Front Royal, Virginia-based Population Research Institute has linked the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) to assisting in forced abortions and coercive sterilizations in China. U.S. funding for the UNFPA was cut after it was found to be in violation of the federal Kemp-Kasten Amendment though such funding is expected to be restored under an Obama administration.
“Human rights groups and the U.S. Government will be watching very carefully to see what happens to Arzigul and her family," Rep. Smith’s remarks continued.
Before Arzigul Tursun was released, Pennsylvania Congressman Rep. Joe Pitts joined Rep. Smith’s protests, saying in a statement:
"I call on the Chinese Government to immediately intervene in order to stop any forced abortion from taking place. Though we know Chinese authorities regularly use forced abortions to enforce its coercive population control program, carrying out this brutal procedure with the world watching Arzigul Tursun’s case would display an utter disregard for any notion of human rights by the Chinese authorities. The Chinese Government should immediately release her from custody and allow her to carry her child to term.”
Rep. Smith had contacted U.S. Ambassador to China Clark Randt and asked him to intervene in Tursun’s case. According to Radio Free Asia, the ambassador spoke about the matter with the executive vice foreign minister, Wang Guanya.