Authorities in an area known for violence between ethnic minority Uyghurs and Han Chinese in China’s restive, far-western Xinjiang region put on trial 25 people who were teaching Islamic religious studies or sending their children to schools that offered such classes, local officials said.
The Uyghurs involved were taken to a public square in handcuffs and shackles to stand trial on charges of endangering state security on March 21 in Qarasay town in Qaraqash (Moyu in Chinese) county in Hotan (Hetian in Chinese) prefecture, they said.
Four of the 25 were teachers, six were students, and the rest were parents and people who provided venues for the religious instruction, they said.
During the two-hour morning trial, the county Communist Party committee and government officials gave speeches, followed by public security authorities who told the 15,000 people who attended under an official government order to learn a lesson from the trial, said Tursun Abdugheni, the Communist Party secretary of the town’s Aral village.
“Then the judicial officials read the verdict and said that the 25 people committed the crime of endangering state security,” he said.
Seventeen of them were from Qarasay, which is why the trial took place there, he said.
“What we heard during the trial was that there was no established underground religious school,” Abdugheni said. “People started offering their homes for religious studies not long ago.”
Authorities charged 23 students between the ages of six to 19, he said.
There also were four female prisoners, one of whom was charged with teaching religion, while the others were charged for sending their children to study religion, he said.
Among them was a 60-year-old grandmother who fainted once before she was taken onstage but was put on trial nevertheless for sending two of her grandchildren to one of the makeshift schools for religious instruction, Abdugheni said.
Round them up
Hotan prefecture in southwestern Xinjiang has been a hotbed of violent stabbing and shooting incidents between ethnic, mostly Muslim Uyghurs and Chinese security forces, with attacks coming amid a string of assaults and bombings across the region, formally called the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region.
Tohti Baqi, the head of security of Karakkotan village, told RFA’s Uyghur Service that authorities had ordered him three days before the trial to make sure that all residents between the ages of 15 and 45 attended the event.
“I could not take the ones who were hospitalized, but I took all the others—about 1,000 people in all,” he said.
“After the trail, we had warned people against sending their children to underground religious schools and told them not to inform the authorities if they had information about other people who sent their children there,” he said.
Baqi warned the residents that if they did so, they would face criminal charges, he said.
A police officer in Qarasay, who declined to be named, said those charged at the public trial were not involved any of the recent attacks or other security-related activities such as reading and distributing illegal religious content.
“They were only the ones who had sent their children to underground religious learning places while the government is cracking down on them,” he said.
Earlier this month, police in Hotan had shot and killed as many as seven ethnic Uyghurs who had been “acting suspiciously” while they were at a restaurant, prompting a security clampdown.
‘Strike hard’ campaign
In recent years, China has launched a series of “strike hard” campaigns in Xinjiang in the name of fighting separatism, religious extremism and terrorism.
The minority Turkic-speaking, Muslim Uyghurs who are the targets of the campaigns have complained about pervasive ethnic discrimination, religious repression, and cultural suppression by Chinese authorities.
Last October, authorities tightened up rules forbidding anyone under the age of 18 from following a religion, targeting families whose children studied the Quran or fasted during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan with hefty fines.
Authorities in the Hotan, Kashgar, and Aksu prefectures of Xinjiang were forcing Uyghur parents to sign pledges promising not to allow their children to participate in any religious activities, the exile World Uyghur Congress (WUC) group charged at the time.
Reported by Shohret Hoshur of RFA’s Uyghur Service. Translated by Mamatjan Juma. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.