Uyghur volleyball coach gets 8 years in jail for ‘befriending bearded men’

Alimjan Mehmut had served as a torchbearer for China’s 2008 Summer Olympics.
By Shohret Hoshur
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A guard tower and barbed wire fences are seen at a facility in the Kunshan Industrial Park in Artux, northwestern China's Xinjiang region, Dec. 3, 2018.
Associated Press

A national-level Uyghur volleyball coach is serving an eight-year prison sentence for “befriending bearded men,” under a deepening crackdown on Islamic practices and culture, a Uyghur living in exile and a local police officer told RFA.

Alimjan Mehmut is serving his sentence in a detention center in Aksu (in Chinese, Akesu), according to information provided by the Norway-based rights organization Uyghur Hjelp, which documents missing and imprisoned Uyghurs in northwestern China’s Xinjiang region.

His name is also on a list of Uyghur torchbearers for the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games who have been imprisoned in recent years, caught in a wider crackdown on the ethnic minority group.

Previous reporting by RFA has found that Xinjiang authorities have used the pretense of fighting religious extremism to increasingly restrict Muslim-influenced Uyghur traditions such as wearing beards and various garments, wedding and funeral rites, the giving of alms, and the naming of children after Mohammed or other Islamic figures.

Abduweli Ayup, the Uyghur linguist who runs the Uyghur Hjelp website, told RFA that Alimjan was one of at least six or seven instructors from the Kashgar Sports School hauled away by authorities in past years. Among those arrested were two other volleyball instructors.

“Through our sources, we learned that Alimjan Mehmut, and his colleagues, Ezizjan and Ezisqari, from the Kashgar Sports School were all arrested,” he said.

RFA contacted the sports school for information on Alimjan, but an official said that no instructor there had been arrested by authorities and refused to answer questions about the former coach after Alimjan’s name was mention.

“We don’t have someone named Alimjan Mehmut in our school,” he said.

But a local Chinese government police officer in Kashgar (Kashi) told RFA that Alimjan had been arrested for “befriending bearded men,” meaning that he had contact via cell phone or otherwise with Muslim Uyghurs deemed suspicious by authorities.

“He was arrested before I came to work here,” the police officer said. “He was sentenced two years ago.”

Respected in Uyghur society

As a coach at the Kashgar Sports School, Alimjan was well-known and respected not only in sports circles, but also in greater Uyghur society for his activism in in his community, said Abduweli.

Alimjan was among the most influential figures in Uyghur society whom the Chinese government began arresting amid a heightened crackdown beginning in 2017, he said.

Many were taken away under the pretext of engaging in religious extremism or separatist activities.

Alimjan is one of at least eight Uyghurs from Kashgar who served as Olympic torchbearers, but were arrested years later. The others on the list compiled by Uyghur Hjelp are Patigul Kadir, Alimjan Mehmut, Yasinjan Awut, Jumehun Memet, Nureli Memet, Abduqeyum Semet and Adil Abdurehim.

In recent weeks, RFA reported that Abduqeyum Semet and Adil Abdurehim had been arrested and sentenced after confirming their detentions with authorities in Xinjiang.

A Uyghur who served as a torchbearer in the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing and was a medical doctor, Abduqeyum Semet is serving an 18-year jail sentence. Adil Abdurehim, also a previous torchbearer and a former Chinese government official, is serving a 14-year jail sentence for watching counter-revolutionary videos.

Citing these draconian restrictions on Uyghurs’ religious practices and culture and the arbitrary arrests and detentions of some 1.8 million people in internment camps over the past five years, the United States and legislatures of several other Western countries have accused China of committing genocide and crimes against humanity.

Beijing rejects these charges, but has allowed little or no outside access to Xinjiang, a vast mountain and desert region the size of Iran or the U.S. state of Alaska.

Translated by RFA’s Uyghur Service. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.


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