Issue 24: Religious Persecution of All Muslims in China

World Uyghur Congress, 8 June 2018

Although the Uyghur Muslim population has faced harsh repression for many years in East Turkistan, the Chinese government has begun targeting Muslims more broadly, like Hui and Kazakhs. Hui have been afforded much more political and religious freedom, but real signs point to a shift towards targeting all Muslims for fear of collective action. Many Kazakhs have been charged for religious reasons and thousands have been sent to political indoctrination camps in recent months.

Throughout 2017, the Chinese government stepped up its campaign targeting members of the Kazakh minority in East Turkistan—who number around 1.5 million at current estimates. Heavy restrictions on freedom of movement, expression, privacy and religion have all been felt as authorities have set their gaze upon those with contacts outside the country.

Dozens of ethnic Kazakhs were detained in early August in East Turkistan for maintaining ties to friends and relatives beyond the border. More than thirty others were detained since the start of 2017 for conversations on their smartphones with friends and relatives about how best to emigrate to Kazakhstan. Serek Yelsik, a Kazakh imam from Ili Kazakh Autonomous Prefecture was sentenced to five years’ imprisonment for “attempting to emigrate to Kazakhstan”.

In addition, Halibyat Baimullah, 47, and Kanjitai Dushan, 49, as well as eight others were detained on June 10 merely for having “close ties” with Uyghurs. The group had allegedly prayed together with Uyghurs during the holy month of Ramadan, which saw unprecedented controls on religious activity and movement.

Local Kazakhs have also been heavily reprimanded for religious activities or the mere transmission of religious content outside the country. A Kazakh musician from Kumul City was sentenced to eight years in prison for sending a Kazakh song with religious content to his brother.

In early 2017, a prominent Kazakh imam, Okan, was jailed for ten years in Altay Prefecture for performing traditional funeral prayers in accordance with Islamic customs.

In another incident, a Kazakh imam known as Akmet died in police custody in Sanji Hui Autonomous Prefecture just days after he was detained in early June, 2017. His death sparked protest online, which resulted in the detention of over 100 of his close friends and followers. Authorities attributed his death to suicide, but little information was released and his funeral arrangements were closely controlled by Chinese authorities.

Many of those detained have been forced to attend “political re-education centers”, including an ethnic Kazakh businessman from Tarbaghatay Prefecture, who was disappeared in May after running a business helping ethnic Kazakhs in China emigrate to Kazakhstan.