China: Uyghur Christians Arrested, Jailed in Xinjiang

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Believers accused of illegal religious activity and leaking state secrets.

DUBLIN (Compass Direct News) -- Last January 12, state security officials arrived at the home of Alimjan Yimit, a Muslim convert, ethnic Uyghur and Christian house church leader in Xinjiang province, northwest China. They detained Alimjan (Uyghurs are known in most cases by a single name), telling family members that the arrest was a “national security issue,” according to China Aid Association (CAA).

They also collected his wife Gulnur for interrogation that evening, but she was later released. As they took Alimjan away, authorities presented a brief detention notice to Gulnur, stating that her husband was under arrest because of his “criminal” activities.

Details of charges against Alimjan are unknown, but last September 13 officials ordered him to close down his Kashgar-based business, Xinjiang Jiaerhao Foodstuff Company Ltd., and accused him of using it as a cover for “preaching Christianity among people of Uyghur ethnicity.”

The arrest followed that of another Uyghur Christian, Osman Imin, on November 19, 2007. Authorities placed Osman in criminal detention and accused him of assisting foreigners in illegal religious activities and revealing state secrets, according to CAA.

Police previously arrested and detained Osman in 2004, torturing him severely during interrogation, local sources told Compass.

The same sources said authorities had in recent weeks arrested at least one other Uyghur believer in Urumqi, the provincial capital, and another in the city of Kashgar.

Evidence of Torture

Details of charges against Osman also are unknown, since the official definition of “leaking state secrets” is in itself a state secret. Local sources, however, said the charges almost certainly relate to Osman’s work with the church.

Authorities first arrested him in October 2004, keeping him in a detention center in Hotan, southern Xinjiang for an unspecified “violation of law,” according to CAA.

During his initial detention, “Osman was chained to a metal bed in winter, without adequate clothing, and beaten repeatedly while interrogated,” a source who spoke on condition of anonymity told Compass. “They also tied his hands behind him and lifted him off the ground.”

Police refer to this technique as “flying the airplane.” It often dislocates the victim’s shoulder bones.

“Osman certainly didn’t do anything to deserve this treatment,” the source added.

Osman was released on bail on November 18, 2004, and bail was canceled in October 2006. On July 26, 2007 however, he was again placed under supervised house arrest and finally detained by police on November 19 on the charge of “revealing state secrets.”

When police issued the arrest warrant to his wife, Nurgul, Osman was traveling in eastern China. Friends were impressed when he returned to face authorities in Xinjiang knowing that his arrest and imprisonment were imminent.

Officials initially called for a 10- to 15-year criminal sentence for Osman but after international media attention reduced the term to two years of “re-education through labor,” CAA reported.

Reports indicate that authorities were initially holding Osman at a detention center near Hotan but have since moved him to a labor farm outside Kashgar. Although officially permitted to visit twice monthly, family members, including his wife, have not seen Osman since his sentencing, according to Compass sources.

Coordinated Campaign

Sources said the real reason for Osman’s arrest has nothing to do with the disclosure of state secrets, but with the fact that he was an outspoken Christian and a leader in the Uyghur church.

The arrests of Alimjan and Osman were not random but part of a coordinated campaign against Uyghur Christians, one source said.

“There appears to be a concerted effort to shut down the leadership of the Uyghur church,” he added. “It’s a small church but growing beyond the ability of the local government to control. They fear anything they cannot control – especially in the charged atmosphere of China’s Muslim northwest.”

Disputes over ownership of Xinjiang’s land and rich mineral resources have led to resentment between Uyghurs – native to Xinjiang – and Han Chinese. Religious differences are also an issue, with a vast majority of Uyghurs practicing Islam, while most Chinese are officially atheists or follow Buddhism or syncretistic folk religions. Only a handful of China’s estimated 10 million Uyghurs are known to be Christians.

One source identified Osman as an iconic figure within the Uyghur church, adding that the arrest of such leaders would eventually result in failure for the Chinese government’s attempts to control the church.

“Similar arrests and detentions of China’s church leadership over the past 50 years have ultimately proved beneficial to the maturing of leadership and exponential growth of the church,” the source continued.

For years the underground church in China has viewed such arrests and imprisonments as something of a “rite of passage” for its leadership.

“If Osman and Alimjan survive their imprisonment, I believe this period of detention will only strengthen their ability to serve the growing number of Uyghur men and women who are following Christ,” the source concluded.

Other published reports have identified Alimjan Yimit and Osman Imin as Ahlimujiang Yimiti and Wusimanyaming. Uyghur names look quite different when written in Chinese script, which explains the discrepancy.

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