By: Radio Free Asia

SourceRadio Free Asia

Authorities in Hotan (in Chinese, Heitian) prefecture, in northwest China’s Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR) have sentenced a prominent imam to more than five years in prison for taking his son to an unsanctioned religious school to meet other children.

Abduheber Ahmet, the imam of the Dongbagh Mosque in Urchi township, in Hotan’s Qaraqash (Moyu) county, was initially detained in May 2017 and handed a five and a half-year jail term a month later, the ruling Chinese Communist Party secretary of Urchi township told RFA’s Uyghur Service.

The 46-year-old father of four “took one of his sons to an underground religious school” in Dongbagh village, the party secretary said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

“It is said that he only took him once … I think it was four or five years ago … He took him there so that his son would meet and play with other children.”

Ahmet, a state-approved imam who had previously received a “five star” rating from officials, “revealed [his crime] himself during one of the confession meetings,” the secretary said, and received “leniency” because he admitted to it.

“Because the government and the party is fair, he was given a five and a half-year sentence, otherwise he would have received a seven-year prison term,” he added.

According to the secretary, Ahmet is serving his sentence in Bayin’gholin (Bayinguoleng) Mongol Autonomous Prefecture at the Reform Through Labor Prison in Korla (Kuerle) city.

He was sent to the prison “about 11 months ago,” he said.

‘Two-faced’ Uyghurs

Since April 2017, Uyghurs accused of harboring “strong religious views” and “politically incorrect” views have been jailed or detained in re-education camps throughout the XUAR, where members of the ethnic group have long complained of pervasive discrimination, religious repression, and cultural suppression under Chinese rule.

In the months since XUAR party chief Chen was appointed to his post in August 2016, he has initiated unprecedented repressive measures against the Uyghur people and ideological purges against so-called “two-faced” Uyghur officials—a term applied by the government to Uyghurs who do not willingly follow directives and exhibit signs of “disloyalty.”

In October last year, RFA learned that authorities had jailed four grandchildren of Qurban Barat, the former imam of Hanliq Mosque in Qaraqash county, who was once recognized as a “Patriotic Religious Scholar” by the Communist Party for turning two alleged “separatists” in to the police.

The four received prison sentences of between five and a half and eight years because they “listened to religious teachings” and possessed “illegal religious materials,” Barat’s son told RFA at the time, adding that at least three other party members in his county have children or spouses who have been sentenced to prison or placed in re-education camps for religious violations.

China regularly conducts “strike hard” campaigns in Xinjiang, including police raids on Uyghur households, restrictions on Islamic practices, and curbs on the culture and language of the Uyghur people, including videos and other material.

While China blames some Uyghurs for “terrorist” attacks, experts outside China say Beijing has exaggerated the threat from the Uyghurs and that repressive domestic policies are responsible for an upsurge in violence there that has left hundreds dead since 2009.