This Article is From Nov 23, 2020

Chinese Authorities Detaining Hundreds Of Uyghur Muslim Leaders: Report

The detention of imams by authorities in Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region has created an atmosphere in which Uyghurs are "afraid of dying", as there will be no one to oversee their funeral rites, reported Radio Free Asia.

Chinese Authorities Detaining Hundreds Of Uyghur Muslim Leaders: Report

At least 613 Uyghur imams have been swept up in China's Xinjiang region since 2017 (Representational)

Beijing (China):

As atrocities continue against Uyghur Muslims in China, authorities in Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR) have now detained hundreds of Muslim imams, or religious leaders, according to a Uyghur linguist in exile.

The detention of imams has created an atmosphere in which Uyghurs are "afraid of dying", as there will be no one to oversee their funeral rites, reported Radio Free Asia.

Abduweli Ayup, a Norway-based activist associated with International Cities of Refuge Network (ICORN), informed that interviews with Uyghurs from the Xinjiang region have revealed that at least 613 imams were swept up in a campaign of extra-legal incarceration that has seen up to 1.8 million Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities held in a vast network of internment camps in the region since early 2017.

"We started this search in 2018, around May...and after the interviews finished in November (that year), I found that the most-targeted population was of religious figures," said Ayup, speaking at a Thursday webinar hosted by the Washington-based Uyghur Human Rights Project titled 'Where are the Imams? Evidence for mass detention of Uyghur religious figures'.

Ayup, who has suffered months of detention and torture during his imprisonment in 2013-2014 after fighting for social and cultural rights through the promotion of Uyghur-language education, said he had also interviewed at least 16 former camp detainees who said the arrests of imams have upended the Uyghur community in the Xinjiang region.

According to Radio Free Asia, one of the former detainees living in the Netherlands told him that in the Xinjiang capital Urumqi, "people have to register and have to wait when somebody dies".

"They are afraid of dying because the mosques are demolished, and the imams are arrested, and there is no possibility to hold a funeral, to hold the ceremony... It's very tragic," said another former detainee.

Meanwhile, Rachel Harris, a professor of ethnomusicology at the School of Oriental and African Studies at the University of London, noted that imams, who are male, are not the only religious figures being targeted in the Uyghur society.

She noted that female religious leaders are also extremely important in the Uyghur society.

"They don't officiate in mosques... they have a role within the home, but they do all of the same kind of important roles that the male imam do," she said.

"They (female religious leaders) work with the women, so they officiate over the funerals of women, they teach children to recite the Quran and all that, and they also have an extremely important role in society - mediating disputes, giving advice, conducting all sorts of rituals," she added.

Harris further urged Uyghur rights groups and others monitoring the region to include female religious leaders in their investigations into mass detentions and other rights abuses in the region, reported Radio Free Asia.

Classified documents known as the China Cables, accessed last year by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, threw light on how the Chinese government uses technology to control Uyghur Muslims worldwide.

However, China regularly denies such mistreatment and says the camps provide "vocational training".

People in the internment camps have said they are subjected to forced political indoctrination, torture, beatings and denial of food and medicine, besides being prohibited from practising their religion or speaking their language.