UPDATED at 10:45 A.M. EST on 2017-11-10
Authorities in northwest China’s Xinjiang province have sentenced a 67-year-old ethnic Uyghur Muslim to 10 years in prison for “religious extremism,” more than a decade after he scolded his son for breaking Islamic custom by drinking alcohol, according to the man’s wife.
Tursun Memet was arrested on May 18 by police in Kashgar (in Chinese, Kashi) prefecture’s Yengisar (Yingjisha) county, 13 years after he admonished his son Memet Imin Tursun for drinking in the lead up to his wedding day, his wife Heyrinsa Qasim recently told RFA’s Uyghur Service.
Memet’s three sons, including the one who had drunk alcohol, were also arrested by authorities in Egus township's No. 4 village, in Yengisar, for the incident between February and June this year, she said.
Memet was sentenced to No. 1 Prison in Xinjiang’s capital Urumqi in September for “religious extremism,” while the son who was reprimanded was sent to an area political re-education camp, she added. The two other sons were also jailed, though the reason for their convictions and their whereabouts were not immediately clear.
Officers at the Egus and nearby Yengiyer township police stations would not comment on the reason of Memet’s imprisonment when contacted by RFA, but also did not deny that he is being held in Urumqi No. 1 Prison. One official from Egus confirmed that Tursun is currently being held in a re-education camp.
Qasim told RFA she was informed that her husband had received a 10-year prison sentence for the comments he made to their son after a night of drinking.
“[In 2004] my son went out with one of his friends and drank alcohol, and the next day my husband told him, ‘You are going to get married … you should have drunk donkey piss instead of alcohol,’” she said.
“This happened more than 10 years ago!”
According to Qasim, Memet was sentenced “because he tried to stop his son from drinking alcohol,” noting that Tursun had ended up drinking on his wedding day anyway.
She questioned why her husband, whose only religious activities consisted of praying five times a day and abstaining from alcohol—according to Islamic custom—and who had never been in trouble with the law, had been targeted as an “extremist.”
After Memet was sentenced, she said, the local Communist Party secretary visited her home and warned her not to “get upset,” saying that her husband and sons “will come home one day.”
The secretary told her Memet “shouldn’t have said what he did” 13 years earlier, and that he had “failed to educate your sons properly,” because by trying to stop them from drinking alcohol he had caused them to become “religious extremists.”
“But at that time, how was it possible for him to know that this would be the outcome,” she wondered.
Qasim said it was unclear how the incident had come to light so long after it happened.
“It’s been over 10 years—I’m not sure if [what he said] was recorded on paper at the time or if someone recalled it and reported it [recently],” she said.
Other families in the area had recently been targeted for preventing their children from drinking alcohol, she added, without providing details.
Since April, thousands of Uyghurs accused of harboring “extremist” and “politically incorrect” views have been detained in political re-education camps and prisons throughout Xinjiang, where members of the ethnic group complain of pervasive discrimination, religious repression, and cultural suppression under Chinese rule.
Authorities have relied on a list circulated earlier this year of “75 Signs of Religious Extremism” to detain Uyghurs amid a string of harsh policies attacking their legitimate rights and freedoms enacted since Communist Party secretary Chen Quanguo was appointed to run the region in August 2016.
Among the signs of extremism on the list were “conducting business as usual” and “women who wear religious clothing to work” during the holy Islamic month of Ramadan, “storing or purchasing large quantities of food for home” and “acting abnormal,” and “praying in groups in public outside of mosques.”
But officials recently told RFA that they were notified in April of several new “signs of extremism” security personnel should look for to determine whether a Uyghur is at risk of becoming an Islamic “radical,” including their postures while at prayer, the color of their hair, and even how they wear their watches.
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.
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.
Reported by Shohret Hoshur for RFA’s Uyghur Service. Translated by RFA’s Uyghur Service. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.
CORRECTION: A previous version of the article said Tursun Memet was arrested by police in Ili Kazakh (in Chinese, Yili Hasake) Autonomous Prefecture’s Ghulja (Yining) city.