Two Uyghur cadres in northwest China’s Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR) have been sentenced to prison over an Islamic book, according to sources, in a case highlighting how even those loyal to the ruling Communist Party can fall prey to Beijing’s policies in the region.
A source with ties to Hotan (in Chinese, Hetian) prefecture recently told RFA’s Uyghur Service that Sampul township head Ablikim Mettursun and Sampul township United Front Work Department employee Memet’eziz Mettohti had been convicted and sent to prison in Hotan’s Keriye (Yutian) county in 2015.
The two men, who are from neighboring Lop (Luopu) county, were found guilty of “harboring a criminal” after failing to confiscate an “illegal religious text” owned by a villager while conducting a home visit as part of a work-group tour in 2012, said the source, who spoke to RFA on condition of anonymity out of fear of reprisal.
According to the source, the cadres did not consider the text illegal because it detailed the proper rules and order of worship while making the Islamic pilgrimage to Mecca known as the hajj, which the government permitted at the time, provided it was arranged through an officially sanctioned tour group.
Three years later, the source said, a majority Han Chinese cadre from the same work group, who had initially been suspicious of the Arabic calligraphy on the cover of the book, asked to inspect it on a follow up visit to the house and determined that it should be listed among the ranks of “illegal religious texts that incite extremism,” leading to the arrest and sentencing of Mettursun and Mettohti.
The two Uyghur cadres were “dedicated workers and party members with good records” over the courses of their 20 to 25-year careers, according to the source.
After speaking with the anonymous source, RFA contacted several government employees to verify the claims and to determine whether or not the two men had been placed in the XUAR’s network of internment camps, where authorities have detained some 1.8 million Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities accused of harboring “strong religious views” and “politically incorrect” ideas since April 2017.
RFA spoke with a Lop county government employee who said they did not have any information on either Mettursun or Mettohti, and referred further questions to higher-level officials, as well as a staffer with the Lop County Justice Department, who also said they did not know anything about the two men.
However, when asked whether any cadres from Sampul township had been sent to internment camps, an employee with a legal work unit in Lop county told RFA that “there's no one in the camps, they’re in prison.”
When asked who had been sent to prison, the employee responded, “Oh, you know, Memet’eziz Mettohti… he worked for the party in Sampul township.”
“They took him in for harboring a criminal … it was connected to a book,” they said, while acknowledging that they did not know what kind of book.”
The employee told RFA that Mettohti had been arrested along with “the township head … Ablikim Mettursun,” and sentenced to “seven years.”
“The two of them were involved with the book,” they said, noting that the men were sent to Keriye County Prison.
“It’s been five years,” the employee added.
The imprisonment of Mettursun and Mettohti demonstrates how not even long-time civil servants are safe amid a campaign of mass incarceration of Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities in the XUAR, where authorities regularly brand as “two-faced” cadres who they say pay lip service to Communist Party rule in the region, but secretly chafe against state repression of members of their ethnic group.
Many of those targeted have also ended up in the camps they have helped to populate, which Beijing initially denied the existence of, but last year changed tack and began describing the facilities as “boarding schools” that provide vocational training for Uyghurs, discourage radicalization, and help protect the country from terrorism.
Reporting by RFA’s Uyghur Service and other media outlets, however, indicates that those in the camps are detained against their will and subjected to political indoctrination, routinely face rough treatment at the hands of their overseers, and endure poor diets and unhygienic conditions in the often overcrowded facilities.
Mass incarcerations in the XUAR, as well as other policies seen to violate the rights of Uyghurs and other Muslims, have led to increasing calls by the international community to hold Beijing accountable for its actions in the region, which also include the use of advanced technology and information to control and suppress its citizens.
On Friday, U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper said during a speech in Washington that China's Communist Party “is using artificial intelligence to repress Muslim minority communities and pro-democracy demonstrators.”
“In fact, the party has constructed a 21st century surveillance state with unprecedented abilities to censor speech and infringe upon basic human rights,” he said, comparing it to one featured in George Orwell’s dystopian novel 1984.
Reported by Shohret Hoshur for RFA’s Uyghur Service. Translated by Elise Anderson. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.