His parents were the last people who would ever criticize the Chinese government, he said.
Despite living abroad, Mr. Habibullah chatted with his parents regularly on the Chinese messaging service WeChat. Suddenly, in August, they stopped answering his messages.
He contacted police stations in Xinjiang and his parents’ old workplaces, and he tried an official in the state security agency, all to no avail. With nine others in his family already missing, he feared the worst.
“I have lost everything,” he said repeatedly during an interview in February.
Last weekend, however — days after The New York Times submitted requests to the Chinese authorities for comment on Mr. Habibullah’s family — he was told by a relative in Switzerland that his parents and sister-in-law had just been freed. The Xinjiang government said in a fax to The Times on Thursday that the three were living “normal lives” in Karamay, the city where they have resided.
For the first time in many months, Mr. Habibullah spoke to his parents by phone, he said, in a call he described as strange for how normal they sought to sound. Much was left unsaid — and unexplained.
“I really wanted to ask my mother where all our other relatives are,” Mr. Habibullah said, “but I couldn’t because our call was definitely being monitored.”
Ms. Sawut, the Uighur activist, said the news gave her hope.
“End of the day, we’d like to see or hear that our relatives or parents are safe,” she said. “Are they safe?”
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