Issue 23: Death of Uyghur Islamic Scholar Salih Hajim Muhammad

World Uyghur Congress, 7 June 2018

82 year-old Uyghur Islamic scholar Muhammad Salih Hajim died in a political indoctrination camp in January 2018. He was arrested in December for peaceful religious practice and was very likely subjected to torture and ill-treatment during his imprisonment.

Muhammend Salih Hajim was born in 1936 in Atush, East Turkistan. He was a prominent Uyghur religious leader and scholar and 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 this has sadly not been the case.

Mr. Hajim’s death 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.

Deaths in custody of political prisoners, dissidents as well as innocent civilians in Chinese prisons and ‘re-education’ camps are happening with alarming regularity. 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.

Whether they were executed or the died as the result of neglect, torture and appalling conditions is impossible to say with any certainty. The Chinese government refuses to release of bodies of Uyghurs who die in prison, depriving their relatives of any chance of knowing how their loved ones died and of the opportunity to give the victims a proper burial and to say their final goodbyes.