A raid by Chinese police on a religious school in Hotan that led to the injury of 12 Uyghur children reflects the severity with which the Chinese state clamps down on religious activities outside of state control. According to official Chinese media, three suspects were seized during the raid on the “illegal religious preaching venue”, a number of staff at the school were injured, and three police officers were also wounded. The raid follows the recent death of an 11-year-old Uyghur boy in police custody in Korla after police cracked down on a religious study group he had attended. These developments have occurred as Chinese authorities have stepped up a campaign on underground religious schools in East Turkestan. Chinese police have also heightened the security presence in East Turkestan because of the upcoming third anniversary of the unrest that shook the region beginning on July 5, 2009. The Uyghur American Association (UAA) condemns the Chinese government’s repression of peaceful religious activities in East Turkestan, and in particular the Chinese state’s violence against young Uyghur children engaged in peaceful religious studies.
According to new information from the World Uyghur Congress (WUC), the school where the raid took place was located on the fifth floor of a six-story building next to the Hotan Communist Party School on Beijing Road. Students at the school studied the Islamic faith. The WUC spoke to local sources who said that when police commenced their raid, they first fired tear gas into the religious school, causing panic among the school’s students and teachers. Police then fired shots, but it is unclear what, if any, firearms were used and where they were aimed. Police subsequently entered the school and began beating and kicking the students, prompting witnesses to protest their actions. Local Uyghurs believe police concocted later claims that staff at the school set off an explosive device in order to cover up their actions during the raid.
According to Uyghur sources interviewed by the WUC, the injuries to both sides during the police raid were caused by the tear gas that was used by the Chinese security forces. According to the WUC, 47 individuals, including 11 women, were arrested following the operation, and were accused of owning illegal publications and disturbing social stability.
Official Chinese accounts stated that 54 children at the school were “rescued from illegal preachers”. However, there is no indication that any of the children were at the school without the consent of their parents. Many Uyghur parents choose to send their children to underground schools, since there is no other alternative for them to receive instruction in the Islamic faith. The Chinese government bans religious schools from operating outside of a narrow, state-controlled structure, and forbids people under the age of 18 from studying religion, engaging in religious worship or observing religious practices. Uyghurs who wish to study religion outside of state-controlled institutions, or to send their children to do so, must study at home or in other locations without the knowledge of Chinese officials, and they face the risk of detention and persecution if detected by Chinese authorities.
Death of Uyghur child in police custody for studying Islamic prayer
According to overseas media reports, 11-year-old Mirzahid Amanullah Shahyari died in police custody in the city of Korla after being detained on May 20 for studying Islamic prayer and the Koran. Two other students and their teacher were also detained. Mirzahid’s mother, Rizwangul, observed clear signs of torture on his body that contradicted official Chinese claims that he had committed suicide. Police forbade Rizwangul from speaking to other people about his death, and ordered that he be buried immediately. Mirzahid’s father, who lives abroad, had recently obtained permission for Rizwangul, Mirzahid and another son to reside in Turkey, but Chinese authorities had prevented the three from leaving China by confiscating their identity cards and forbidding them from obtaining passports.
Chinese police subsequently detained Pamir Yasin, a Uyghur man living in the regional capital of Urumchi, for tweeting information on his Sina Weibo account about Mirzahid’s death. Chinese authorities placed him under 15 days’ administrative detention for circulating “distorted information”, under Article 47 of China’s Public Security Administration Punishment Law. The law allows authorities to detain citizens without trial for up to 15 days for “inciting ethnic hatred or ethnic discrimination or publishing ethnically discriminatory or insulting content in printed materials or online.” Mirzahid’s uncle was also reportedly detained by police for allegedly giving information to foreign media.
Nine sentenced in Kashgar for involvement in “illegal religious instruction”
In May, nine Uyghur men were sentenced to lengthy prison terms in Kashgar for their involvement with “illegal religious schools” or religious instruction. According to the official Kashgar Daily newspaper, Sadike Ku’erban received the heaviest sentence of 15 years in prison for inciting separatism by spreading “extremist religious thought and inciting others to wage a holy war.” The Kashgar Daily reported that he oversaw the operation of illegal, home-based religious schools throughout East Turkestan over the past decade that provided instruction for 86 students, including young children.
Religious persecution in East Turkestan
The Chinese government places tight constraints on freedom of religion, and the situation in East Turkestan is particularly controlled. Imams are required to attend annual political education classes to ensure that they “stand on the side of government firmly and express their viewpoints unambiguously”; only officially approved versions of the Koran and sermons are permitted, with all unapproved religious texts treated as illegal publications liable to confiscation and criminal charges against whoever was found in possession of them; any outward expression of faith in government workplaces, such as men wearing beards or women wearing headscarves, is forbidden; no one under the age of 18 can enter a mosque; university and school students are forbidden from praying on campus, even in their dormitories; and students are prohibited from fasting during Ramadan. In recent years, restrictions on Uyghurs’ adherence to the Islamic faith have increasingly been codified into Chinese law, criminalizing peaceful religious practices among Uyghurs on par with illicit and violent criminal activity.