Uyghur imam sentenced for providing religious instruction to son in Xinjiang

A Uyghur father and son in northwestern China’s Xinjiang province are serving prison sentences for taking part in “illegal” religious education at home, a Uyghur who has knowledge of the situation said.

Memet Musa, a 50-year-old religious cleric from

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A Uyghur father and son in northwestern China’s Xinjiang province are serving prison sentences for taking part in “illegal” religious education at home, a Uyghur who has knowledge of the situation said.

Memet Musa, a 50-year-old religious cleric from Lenger village, Keriye (in Chinese Yutian) county in Hotan (Hetian) prefecture, and his 20-year-old son, Osman Memet, were sentenced to prison in 2018 because the father taught the Qur’an to his son, said the source from Keriye, who now lives in exile.

Musa was known for his public cautiousness and to not cross the lines drawn by the Chinese authorities when it came to religion, the source said. When Musa was asked by others to teach the Qur’an, he politely declined by saying he was a poor teacher.

But he taught his son the Qur’an and the basic teachings of Islam to fulfill what he viewed as his role as a father, said the Uyghur in exile, who declined to be named out of fear of reprisal by the Chinese government.

Chinese police in 2017 arrested Memet for reciting suras, or sections, from the Quran at several funerals in the community, the source said.

During his interrogation, Memet told police that when he was a child, he learned to recite the Quran from his father and not from people considered by authorities to be suspect, said the Uyghur in exile. But police still considered the teachings to be a crime, the source said.

Chinese authorities have punished large numbers of Uyghurs and other Turkic minorities in Xinjiang during the past five years for taking part in “illegal” family-based religious education from community religious figures, according to leaked Chinese government documents and accounts of former detainees from so-called “re-education” camps.

Authorities also have arrested and jailed other young Uyghurs for receiving religious instruction from their parents or grandparents, according to the documents in the Xinjiang Police Files, first published by the Washington, D.C.-based Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation on May 24. The files contain information about Uyghurs detained in Xinjiang, though Musa and his son are not mentioned in the documents.

Chinese government officials in Keriye declined to answer RFA’s questions about the imprisonment of Memet Musa and his son.

But officers at the Lenger village police station confirmed the information provided by the Uyghur source when contacted by RFA.

One officer named Musa as one of the religious figures arrested from the village, adding that he was sentenced along with his son.

“I heard about his [Musa’s] case when our police station chief talked about it, but I was not directly involved in it,” the officer said.

A second officer said Musa, who has three children, once served as an imam at the village mosque and had been sentenced to 10 years in jail, while his son got six years.

“His crime was illegal preaching,” the policeman said.

His son’s crime was “studying religious knowledge from his father,” he said.

Both Musa and Memet are serving their prison terms in a prison in Keriye, the policeman said.

The criminalization of family-based religious instruction has occurred across Xinjiang since 2017, said the Uyghur in exile. That year is when Chinese authorities began arbitrarily detaining Uyghurs and other Turkic people in a vast network of hundreds of internment camps under the pretense of providing vocational education to prevent religious extremism and terrorism in the region.

It is believed that authorities have held up to 1.8 million Uyghurs and others accused of harboring “strong religious” and “politically incorrect” views in the camps. There is credible evidence that some detainees have been subjected to forced labor, torture, sexual assault, and forced sterilizations and abortions. Authorities also have made efforts to eradicate the Uyghur language, culture and religion.

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