Authorities in northwestern China’s troubled Xinjiang region have handed a seven-year prison term to an ethnic Ugyhur for watching a politically sensitive film on Muslim migration, sources in the region said.
Eli Yasin, a resident of Chaghraq township in Aksu (in Chinese, Akesu) prefecture’s Onsu (Wensu) county, was sentenced in February after being held since May 2015, sources said, adding that authorities had suspected Yasin and family members who viewed the film with him of planning to go abroad “to wage jihad.”
Family circumstances argued against their having had such a plan, though, Hesen Eysa, security chief for Yasin’s Karasu village, told RFA’s Uyghur Service.
“All of them were over 40 years of age,” Eysa said. “They had a farm, and they were struggling to survive and provide for their children’s education."
“They showed no signs of opposing the government. At least I never saw any signs of this,” he said.
“As a security chief, I am having a hard time explaining these charges to the people in my village.”
“None of this makes any sense. It is very unjust,” he said.
Relatives also held
Detained with Yasin were two sisters and the sisters’ husbands, all residents of nearby Toxula township and each with three to five children in their own families, sources told RFA.
No details were immediately available regarding additional sentences handed out, and police authorities in Onsu county hung up the phone on learning that a reporter from RFA’s Uyghur Service had called them for comment.
The Chinese government’s policy of “stability at all costs” is the root cause of such family tragedies in Xinjiang, Memet Toxti, a Uyghur living in exile in Canada, told RFA.
“China wants Uyghurs everywhere to know that the state is always watching them,” Toxti, a former deputy chairman of the Munich-based World Uyghur Congress, said.
“Punishing entire families is a method commonly used to silence Uyghurs before any acts of resistance can take place,” he said.
Rights groups accuse Chinese authorities of heavy-handed rule in Xinjiang, including violent police raids on Uyghur households, restrictions on Islamic practices, and curbs on the culture and language of the Uyghur people.
China regularly vows to crack down on what it calls the “three evils” of terrorism, separatism, and religious extremism in Xinjiang.
But experts outside China say Beijing has exaggerated the threat from Uyghur separatists, and that domestic policies are responsible for an upsurge in violence that has left hundreds dead since 2012.
Reported and translated by Shohret Hoshur for RFA’s Uyghur Service. Written in English by Richard Finney.