Two ethnically Uyghur communist party cadres in China’s northwestern Xinjiang territory were reportedly arrested and imprisoned in 2015 for not seizing a villager’s “illegal” religious text.
The men, Sampul township head Ablikim Mettursun and Sampul township United Front Work Department employee Memet’eziz Mettohti, were also convicted of “harboring a criminal,” Radio Free Asia (RFA)’s Uyghur service reported.
A source told RFA the civil servants — long-serving, “dedicated party members” — had visited a villager’s home in 2012 as part of a work-group tour.
They discovered an Islamic book at the residence, but deemed that it did not run afoul of the law. The text detailed the protocols for making the Islamic pilgrimage to Mecca, which was permissible at the time in China.
In 2015, however, a cadre from China’s Han Chinese majority visited the same home. After becoming suspicious of the Arabic calligraphy on the book’s cover, that cadre later deemed it to be an “illegal” religious text that incites extremism, prompting the arrest and imprisonment of Mettursun and Mettohti.
A government employee in Lop county, where the two cadres hailed from, told RFA the men had been sentenced to seven years in prison.
RFA said the case highlights how even long-time party loyalists and civil services are not free from China’s sweeping system of mass incarceration in Xinjiang.
Chinese authorities are thought to have rounded up approximately 1.8 million Uyghurs and other Turkic Muslim minorities, detaining them in camps across the region in a bid to reshape their religious and political worldview.
The targeting of cultural artifacts like Islamic texts has only ramped up with the so-called “Sanxin Huodong“ or Three News campaign, which has reportedly sought to push Uyghurs and other Turkic Muslims to abandon traditional rugs, pillows, sofas, beds, desks, and other household items in exchange for Chinese furnishings.
That campaign followed a 4 billion-yuan (U.S. $575 million) effort to “modernize” the region by targeting other aspects of Uyghur architecture and design, which has seen authorities demand the destruction of such elements.
Those who fail to comply risk being labeled extremists and imprisoned.