Merdan Seyitakhun

Charge:  Separatism
Sentence: Life imprisonment
Location: Ghulja County Prison


Police from Ili City arrested Merdan Seyitakhun, who is from Ghulja County, on 14 April 2008. A state appointed lawyer was assigned to Merdan’s case after authorities charged him for “acts of separatism” by providing “illegal” religious education to Uyghur children. According to Radio Free Asia, he was sentenced to life imprisonment on March 24, 2009 for “splitting the country.” Merdan’s father said his son’s trial was closed and that only one family member was allowed to attend. He told Radio Free Asia reporters: “The government accused them of teaching religion, engaging in illegal religious activities, of ‘splitting the country ’... We’re not satisfied with this verdict ... and we are all so surprised. They should be punished like this for teaching religion?... They weren’t establishing an anti-government organization or using weapons to engage in terrorist acts or blow up buildings—they were teaching morality and religion to youths who had been on the street and teaching them to do good deeds.”

Authorities detained eleven other Uyghur men from Ghulja and Nelka Counties between March and June 2008 for teaching Islam. The Ili Intermediate People’s Court handed down sentences ranging from three to 15 years imprisonment based on their roles as instigators, organizers, or followers of “splitting the state” under Article 103 of the Criminal Law. The men are: Ahmetjan Emet (15 years), Seydehmet Awut (10 years), Erkin Emet (10 years), Abdujilil Abdughupur (6 years), Abdulitip Ablimit (6 years), Mewlanjan Ahmet (10 years), Kurbanjan Semet (10 years), Dolkun Erkin (10 years), Omerjan Memet (10 years), Mutelip Rozi (6 years), and Ubulkasim (3 years).

Issue (religious freedom):

Curbs on Uyghur freedom of religious belief and practice are well documented, including extensive regulation on mosque attendance specifically preventing children under 18 and party members from attending a mosque; bans on cross-village worship; limits on participation in the Hajj pilgrimage; strict control of “Islamic” dress; and limits on observance of Ramadan particularly for students and state workers.  Organized private religious education is proscribed and facilitators of private classes in Islam are frequently charged with conducting “illegal” religious activities Increasingly, state regulations ban religious practices that have long been part of the Uyghur tradition.

UHRP’s 2013 report, Sacred Right Defiled: China’s Iron-Fisted Repression of Uyghur Religious Freedom documents the extensive nature of religious restrictions in the region.

Get involved:

Sign UHRP’s petition to release all 8 prisoners in this campaign

Read/listen/watch on:

Watch: UHRP assembled a team of experts in conversation around restrictions on Uyghur religious practice to launch the 2013 report, Sacred Right Defiled
Uyghur Men Sentenced (Radio Free Asia: June 5, 2009)
Draft Regulation in Xinjiang Could Strengthen Legal Prohibitions Over Children's Freedom of Religion (Congressional-Executive Commission on China: June 30, 2009)
Devastating Blows: Religious Repression of Uighurs in Xinjiang (Human Rights Watch: April 13, 2005)
Crackdown, Misunderstanding of Uyghur Faith (The Huffington Post: July 3, 2013)
Sacred Right Defiled: A Former Imam Discusses Uyghur Religious Freedom (Venn Institute: May 22, 2013)
Red Tape: Chinese Government Regulation of Uyghur Religious Freedom (World Policy Blog: May 20, 2013)


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