PRESS RELEASE: WUC Calls for Transparency on the Disappearance of Prominent Uyghur Religious Leader and Scholar Muhammad Salih Hajim
In light of numerous reports of the disappearance and possible detention of a prominent religious leader and academic in the Uyghur community, Muhammad Salih Hajim, the WUC calls for clarification from the Chinese government about the status and whereabouts of Mr. Hajim. Given the widespread roundup and arbitrary detention of Uyghur academics, religious leaders and prominent figures in the community, the WUC is very concerned that Mr. Hajim may have been arrested or disappeared by the Chinese police.
Muhammend Salih Hajim was born in 1936 in Atush, East Turkestan. He is a prominent Uyghur religious leader and scholar and is a well-respected figure in the Uyghur community. He had worked to translate the Quran into the Uyghur language, with the permission of the Chinese government, and his translation was published in 1986. Many assumed that his cooperation with the Chinese government would allow him to peacefully practice his religion and ensure his safety, but it now appears that this is not the case.
The WUC is very concerned for Mr. Hajim’s health and well-being. The Chinese government’s mistreatment and neglect of its political prisoners is well documented. Nobel Peace Prize winner Liu Xiaobo died in a Chinese prison in July 2017 after his medical condition was allowed to deteriorate without sufficient care and he was not permitted to seek more effective treatment overseas. In December 2017, it was reported that 2 young Uyghurs died in Chinese custody in uncertain circumstances after voluntarily returning to China while studying in Egypt. As Muhammed Salih Hajim is 82 years and in poor health, he is at particular risk.
Mr. Hajim’s disappearance has occurred in the midst of a massive crackdown by the Chinese authorities on the Uyghur people in general and especially on their right to freedom of religion. Hundreds of thousands (possibly millions) of Uyghurs have been arrested across East Turkestan and sent to ‘re-education’ camps for peacefully practicing their religion, expressing themselves freely, or for having any dissident relatives or associates. Sweeping new legislation has effectively given the Chinese government control over every aspect of religious practice in East Turkestan. This year alone, we have seen bans on wearing a hijab, growing a beard or even naming children with traditional Muslim names.
Many Uyghurs have been arrested by Chinese police and subjected to lengthily prison sentences, simply for peacefully practicing their religion. Abdurekim Abduweli, a renowned Islmaic scholar and Imam, has now been imprisoned for over 27 years for his religious beliefs. Abdusemet Qarihaji was sentenced to 20 years imprisonment in May 2016 for teaching the Quran to children. In 2017, Horigul Nasir was sentenced to 10 years imprisonment for being accused of promoting the wearing of headscarves and Hebibulla Tohti was also sentenced to 10 years for ‘illegal religious activity’ after returning from studying in Egypt.
The freedom to peacefully practice your religion and engage in spiritual life is one of the most fundamental human rights outlined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Yet, every month, more and more Uyghurs are forcibly prevented from practicing their religion and face arbitrarily detention and persecution for exercising this most basic right.
We therefore join the Uyhgur Human Rights Project in calling on the Chinese government to clarify whether Mr. Hajim has indeed been arrested and, if so, to disclose his alleged crimes, whereabouts and well-being. The continuous arrests and disappearances of innocent Uyghurs in East Turkestan must not go unnoticed. We appeal to the international community to raise these cases publicly and to push for transparency and accountability.