Authorities in northwest China’s Xinjiang region have jailed four grandchildren of an ethnic Uyghur former imam who was once recognized by the ruling Communist Party for turning two alleged “separatists” in to the police, according to his son.
Qurban Barat, who spent 25 years as the imam of Hanliq Mosque, in Hotan (in Chinese, Hetian) prefecture’s Qaraqash (Moyu) county, was named a “Patriotic Religious Scholar” in 2005 after reporting two Uyghurs who said they were organizing a separatist movement in Xinjiang, his son, Abdurahman Qurban, recently told RFA’s Uyghur Service.
The two men were later sentenced to nine and 11 years in prison, and Barat received 300 yuan (U.S. $45) and a certificate of recognition from the regional government, Qurban said from his home in Puchaqchi village, but his service to the party was ignored by authorities when they convicted Barat’s grandchildren for “religious violations.”
“All three have received prison sentences … because they listened to religious teachings” and possessed “illegal religious materials,” Qurban said of his three children Abduhaber Abdurahman, 32, who was handed eight years in October 2015; and Abdulla Abdurahman, 27, and Ablimit Abdurahman, 24, who were both sentenced to six years in May.
Twenty-two year old Mehmet Abdulla Enver—the son of Qurban’s sister, Saadet Qurban—was sentenced to five-and-a-half years in prison in June, also for “listening to a religious sermon,” he said.
Qurban, who has also received awards for his service to the party, said he tried to show the authorities his father’s certificate when they came to arrest each of the grandchildren, “but I was told it doesn’t affect anything.”
Barat, who died in 2006, was also respected within the Uyghur community for his knowledge of Islam and having made a pilgrimage to Mecca in 2003, he said, and regularly attended religious scholar conferences in the Xinjiang capital Urumqi.
Qurban told RFA that at least three other party members in his county have children or spouses who have been sentenced to prison or placed in re-education centers for religious violations.
‘All Uyghurs are the same’
Since Xinjiang party chief Chen Quanguo was appointed to his post in August last year, he has initiated several harsh policies targeting religious freedom in the region, where Uyghurs complain of pervasive ethnic discrimination, religious repression, and cultural suppression under Chinese rule.
China regularly conducts “strike hard” campaigns in Xinjiang, including police raids on Uyghur households, restrictions on Islamic practices, and curbs on the culture and language of the Uyghur people, including videos and other material.
While China blames some Uyghurs for "terrorist" attacks, experts outside China say Beijing has exaggerated the threat from the Uyghurs and that repressive domestic policies are responsible for an upsurge in violence there that has left hundreds dead since 2009.
Ilshat Hassan, president of the exile Uyghur American Association, said Barat’s situation shows that even those Uyghurs who strive to obey Chinese authorities are incapable of earning their trust.
“From the perspective of the Chinese government, all Uyghurs are the same, no matter how loyal some may seem,” he said.
“The CCP [Chinese Communist Party] simply doesn’t trust any Uyghurs. It only uses them for a temporary benefit and gets rid of them in the end.”
According to Hassan, the party prioritizes the removal of any Uyghurs who oppose Chinese rule in the region before targeting Uyghur moderates, who only call for the protection of Uyghur culture, language, and traditions.
“But in the end, it gets rid of those faithful running dogs who thought they could count on the CCP when push comes to shove,” he said.
“The CCP just as mercilessly targets them, because it sees these Uyghurs as posing the same threat to its continuous hold on [Xinjiang].”
Reported by Shohret Hoshur for RFA’s Uyghur Service. Translated by Alim Seytoff. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.