Authorities in China's northwestern region of Xinjiang have denied permission for the family of a jailed Christian Uyghur to visit him, according to the man's wife.
Gulnur, the wife of 40-year-old Uyghur pastor Alimjan Himit (also known in Chinese as Alimujiang Yimiti), who is currently serving a 15-year jail term on spying charges, was turned away by prison guards after she traveled to the jail to visit him on Wednesday.
"I have just been over there, but I wasn't able to see him," she said. "I am on my way home right now."
She said the prison authorities had limited her to one visit every three months.
"They told me to visit once every three months, and to come back next month," Gulnur said.
"I feel so sad about this, because I thought things were getting a bit better."
Gulnur said she thought the restrictions on visits could be linked to Alimjan Himit's insistence on continuing with the appeals process.
"I still want him to appeal," she said. "I think he could win."
Alimjan Himit was sentenced by a court in Kashgar to a 15-year jail term for allegedly “providing state secrets to overseas organizations” on Oct. 27, 2009.
Gulnur said her last visit to her husband in November lasted just 15 minutes.
Calls to the Xinjiang No. 3 Prison, where he is being held, went unanswered during office hours on Wednesday.
Beijing-based rights lawyer Li Dunyong, who has represented Alimjan Himit in the past, said he hadn't heard of any new regulations on family visits to prisons.
"Everywhere else, it's once a month," Li said. "I'm sure they made this up themselves. It's definitely illegal."
Li has said previously that while the charge against Alimjan Himit was officially listed as "revealing state secrets," his actual offense was talking to visiting Christians from the United States.
Alimjan Himit was formally detained and charged on Jan. 11, 2008 by Kashgar national security police, before being held at the Kashgar Detention Center for more than a year without being sentenced.
He was tried secretly twice in the Kashgar Intermediate Court on May 27, 2008, and again on July 28, 2008. A charge of separatism was dropped at the second trial.
A former Muslim and Christian convert, Alimjan Himit had been acting as pastor to a house church in Xinjiang with his wife Gulnur and two sons.
The United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention has ruled the arrest and detention of Alimjan Himit to be arbitrary and in violation of international law, according to the U.S.-based Christian group ChinaAid.
Uyghurs, a distinct and mostly Muslim ethnic group indigenous to Xinjiang, have long complained of religious, political, and cultural oppression under Chinese rule, and tensions have simmered there for years.
Xinjiang has been plagued in recent years by bombings, attacks, and riots that Chinese authorities blame on Uyghur separatists.
Reported by Qiao Long for RFA's Mandarin service, and by Fung Yat-yiu for the Cantonese service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.