Uyghur Footballer back training after 11 months in a detention camp

Erfan Hezim is a young promise of Chinese football. He reappeared on social media with a message of thanks for the Chinese government. It is estimated that at least one million people are being held in Xinjiang detention centres.

Beijing (AsiaNews/Agencies) – Erfan Hezim, an ethnic Uyghur and promising young star in China’s football league, is back with his football team after spending a period of "re-education" in a Xinjiang detention camp.

After a period of silence, he thanked the Chinese government and the Communist Party. "I need to thank the party and the government for giving me a stage to realise my dreams," he says in a video that is circulating online.

Erfan, 20, plays for the Chinese Super League team Jiangsu Suning Football Club. On 18 February he appeared in two photos posted on his team’s official Weibo account, practising during winter training.

He disappeared in February 2018 after returning home from a trip to Spain and Dubai, prompting the International Federation of Professional Footballers (FIFPro) to release a statement in June 2018 calling for his “immediate release so that he can be reunited with his family and continue his football career”.

The young man is one of about a million Uyghurs placed in extra-judicial detention centres in Xinjiang. Uyghurs speak a Turkic language and are indigenous to the area.

For its part, Beijing has insisted that the camps are “vocational training centres” for people attracted to Islamist extremism and separatism.

Social repression and religious oppression are justified by the fight against "terrorism" and "separatism".

For decades, activists have complained that the indigenous people of Xinjiang are subjected to forced military and administrative colonisation by Beijing.

In Xinjiang there are some separatist groups, but most indigenous Uyghurs only want more autonomy.

To counter such demands, Beijing’s crackdown has intensified over the years with greater surveillance, DNA registration, passport seized, and bans on young people from attending mosques or fasting.