China Releases Uyghur Church Leader from Prison

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A Uyghur Christian in China’s troubled Xinjiang region was released earlier this month after serving two years in a labor camp for alleged “illegal proselytizing”
and “leaking state secrets,” according to Compass Direct News sources.

House church
leader Osman Imin (Wusiman Yaming in Chinese) was freed Nov. 18,
sources said. Authorities had called for a 10- to 15-year prison sentence for Osman
but significantly reduced the term following international media attention.

(Photo: China Aid Association)

An outspoken
leader of the Uyghur church in the northwestern region of China, Osman was first
arrested in 2004 and kept at a detention center in Hotan, southern Xinjiang.
Local sources
said his arrest was almost certainly related to his church

There he was
chained to a metal bed in winter and frequently beaten while interrogated. Osman
was released on bail on Nov. 18, 2004, but bail was canceled in October 2006. On
July 26, 2007, he was again placed under supervised house arrest and finally
detained by police on Nov. 19 of that year on the charge of “revealing state

denied him access to a lawyer, and in June 2008 a court rejected his appeal
without explanation.

eventually moved him to the labor camp outside Kashgar. While in prison
Osman was forced to work 12 to 15 hours a day, and his health quickly
deteriorated. He was reportedly suffering malnutrition throughout his

Osman and his
wife, Nurgul, have two young daughters.

Still in
arbitrary detention in the region is another Uyghur Christian, Alimjan Yimit
(Alimujiang Yimiti in Chinese). Officials initially closed the foreign-owned
business Alimjan worked for in September 2007 and accused him of using it as a
cover for “preaching Christianity.” He was then detained in January 2008 on
charges of endangering state security and was formally arrested on Feb. 20, 2008,
on charges of “inciting secession” and leaking state

Court officials
returned Alimjan’s case to state prosecutors in May 2008, citing lack of
evidence. Last May 21, government sources told Alimjan’s mother that the Public
Security Bureau (PSB) in Kashgar planned to quietly sentence him to three years
of re-education through labor, thereby circumventing the court

Under Chinese
law the PSB, which originally filed the case against Alimjan, may authorize such
sentences without approval from the court or other state agencies.

Court authorities have returned Alimjan’s case to
state prosecutors, citing lack of evidence for charges of “leaking state
secrets” and “inciting secession.” Family, friends and work colleagues have
insisted that Alimjan is a loyal citizen with no access to state secrets, and
that his arrest was due largely to his Christian faith and association with
foreign Christians.


In Xinjiang’s politically charged environment,
Alimjan’s family and friends fear he could face execution if he were wrongly
linked with alleged Uyghur separatists.

Sources said
there appears to be a concerted effort to shut down the leadership of the Uyghur
church in a restive region where authorities fear anything they cannot control.
region of ethnic Uyghurs has come under a government crackdown the past two
years as long-simmering tensions erupted.

Disputes over
ownership of Xinjiang’s land and rich mineral resources have led to resentment
between Uyghurs— native to Xinjiang—and Han Chinese. Religious differences
are also an issue, with a vast majority of Uyghurs practicing Islam, while most
Chinese are officially atheists or follow Buddhism or syncretistic folk
religions. Only a handful of China’s estimated 10 million Uyghurs are known to
be Christians.

As part of
authorities’ apparent effort to clamp down on Christianity, they have disbarred
several lawyers involved in the defense of Uyghur Christians, including
Alimjan’s attorney, Li Dunyong. He was effectively disbarred at the end of May
when Chinese authorities turned down an annual application to renew his law

Zhang Kai,
another Beijing lawyer who had defended Alimjan, suffered the same

failed to renew licenses for at least 15 other lawyers who had defended civil
rights cases, religious and ethnic minorities and political dissidents,
according to watch group Human Rights in China.

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