Updated at 6:55 p.m. EST on 2012-06-05
An 11-year-old Uyghur boy has died in police custody under suspicious circumstances after being detained for taking Islamic prayer lessons from an unsanctioned school, drawing condemnation from an overseas rights group.
Mirzahid was arrested on May 20 while studying Islamic prayer and reciting of the Koran along with two other students and their teacher at the teacher’s home in Korla in northwestern China’s Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, according to sources.
Due to restrictions in the region imposed by Chinese authorities, Uyghurs have been forced to seek alternative ways to obtain a religious education.
Children under the age of 18 are not allowed to enter mosques for prayer and are not provided the opportunity to study Islam in school. Both students and teachers at unsanctioned "home" schools take enormous risks by engaging in religious study, which is likely to result in imprisonment if discovered by authorities.
Police informed Mirzahid’s mother that the boy had committed suicide while in detention, sources said. When she went to retrieve his body, it became clear that he had suffered torture, appearing to have been strangled around the neck and beaten repeatedly, the sources said.
Police also told his mother not to speak of Mirzahid’s death and to quietly bury his body immediately, according to the sources. The boy was interred in the presence of the police and without reciting from the Koran on May 22.
According to a report in the official Chinese media, Mirzahid died as a result of a beating he received before he was detained at the hands of his Koran instructor who was punishing him for failing to recite his prayers in a timely manner.
The case drew strong condemnation from the Germany-based World Uyghur Congress (WUC), which noted that Mirzahid’s death comes against a backdrop of an increased presence of security forces in the region following a clash in Korla between young Uyghurs and police, which left four Uyghurs dead.
“The case is riddled with many violations of fundamental international human rights law, as well as reminiscent of the persecution that Uyghurs face on a day-to-day basis and other deaths in detention of minors, such as that of Noor-ul-Islam Shebaz in November 2011,” the WUC wrote in a statement.
Noor-ul-Islam Sherbaz, then 17, was detained following ethnic disturbances in the regional capital Urumqi in July 2009, and was charged in 2010 for what authorities said was his role in inciting the unrest. He was allegedly given a lethal injection at his prison hospital and immediately buried by authorities, who would not let his family see his body.
WUC President Rebiya Kadeer said that while many Uyghur adults are detained, tortured and, in some cases, executed or otherwise killed as a result of their treatment, “the case of Mirzahid is particularly barbaric.”
“Whatever his crime—indeed, precedents suggest that there was unlikely to be a crime—no child should be detained, moreover tortured to death,” she said.
“This incident is a flagrant abuse of the most basic international human rights law.”
Kadeer noted that China has ratified the United Nations Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment and is a signatory to the Convention on the Rights of the Child.
“China must recognize the competency of the Committee against Torture, and undertake all measures so that this barbaric act does not repeat itself again,” she said.
“China must immediately cease its persecution of Uyghurs and the denial of their right to freedom of religion, especially for children for whom there should be no exception.”
Reported by Joshua Lipes.