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Uighur musician listed for China show year after disappearance

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Beijing (AFP)

A prominent Uighur musician who was rumoured to have disappeared into a re-education camp in China's northwest Xinjiang will perform in Shanghai next month, the event organiser said Monday.

Singer-songwriter Sanubar Tursun will perform at an award ceremony organised by the Shanghai Conservatory of Music on November 4, the conservatory's head of propaganda, who only shared her surname, Chen, told AFP.

Tursun's public appearance would come almost one year after her rumoured detention in Xinjiang, where an estimated one million Uighurs and other mostly Muslim ethnic minorities have been held in internment camps.

After initially denying their existence, Beijing now defends Xinjiang's camps as "vocational education centres" that are necessary to counter religious extremism and terrorism.

Tursun is "not only a household name locally, but also the most famous Uighur female musician in the world," wrote the Shanghai conservatory on its WeChat social media account in a Sunday post.

"In these past years, she has been active in the international music scene," it added, citing concerts in Turkey, London, Paris, and Toronto.

Last December, news of Tursun's disappearance circulated online, joining that of other Uighur cultural icons, such as comedian Adil Mijit.

According to his son-in-law, Mijit has been incommunicado since November 2018.

"I think it would be premature to see (a Shanghai appearance) as a sign that the situation for the majority of Uighurs is actually improving," said Rachel Harris, a long-time friend of Tursun.

Other high-profile musicians, such as Abdurehim Heyit, have been "allowed out and then placed in the position of mouthing the [Chinese Communist] Party line", she told AFP, referring to a video of Heyit performing for a Turkish delegation published earlier this year.

AFP could not independently verify the authenticity of the video.

In February, China released its own video of a man who identified himself as Heyit, after Turkey claimed the musician had died in a Chinese prison.

When Tursun is able to organise "her own private concerts for rural people in southern Xinjiang, as she was doing five to six years ago, then I will think that things are improving", said Harris, who also researches Uighur music at the School of Oriental and African Studies University of London.

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