Trapped and Caged

Nurmuhemmet Yasin, Grant Awarded 2009

When this magazine went to press, it was impossible to ascertain the fate of Nurmuhemmet Yasin. He is a Uighur, the Turkic-speaking, Muslim population in the Gobi Desert region of northwestern China. Yasin’s 2004 allegorical story, Wild Pigeon, about the son of a pigeon king who is trapped and caged by humans, was denounced as a separatist tract. In February 2005, he was sentenced to ten years in prison. No one has seen him since his arrest, and rumors of his ill health and even death have circulated for years. The Chinese Justice Ministry has not answered Amnesty International’s letter earlier this year, asking if Yasin had been released from prison. Since 2009, several hundred people have died in Xinjiang in attacks on police stations, train stations, and public markets, or been killed by law enforcement in what authorities claimed were counterterrorism operations.

His short story “Wild Pigeon” led immediately to Yasin’s arrest and imprisonment © 2011 Carolyn Drake
Uighur laborers string electric lines across southern edge of the desert © 2007 Carolyn Drake
Mutton is sliced from the bone to make traditional plov and lagman at a Uighur restaurant © 2007 Carolyn Drake
Donkey carts in the parking lot of a bazaar in Kashgar, near China’s border with Pakistan © 2007 Carolyn Drake

Carolyn Drake is a photographer living in Athens, Georgia.

A haunting image can be a powerful agent of change. Human Rights Watch has worked with some of the world’s leading photographers to document abuse: Susan Meiselas in India’s maternity wards; Tim Hetherington in Darfur; and Marcus Bleasdale in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Two of our multimedia features have won a Peabody award.Help Defend Human Rights & Save Lives. Donate at
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