Chinese Pastor Sentenced to 15 Years in Prison

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Chinese authorities have quietly sentenced Uyghur Christian Alimjan Yimit
(Alimujiang Yimiti in Chinese) to 15 years in prison on the apparently contrived
charge of “providing state secrets to overseas organizations,” according to
China Aid Association (CAA).

The charge
against the 36-year-old house church leader, held for more
than two years at Kashgar Detention Center in China’s
troubled Xinjiang region, was apparently based on interviews he granted to media
outside of China, according to his lawyer, Li

(In this image released by China Aid Association, Alimujiang Yimiti is shown with his wife, Gulinuer, and one of the couple’s two sons.)

“The 15-year
sentence is far more severe than I originally expected,” Li said in a CAA press
statement released yesterday. “It is the maximum penalty for this charge of
‘divulging state secrets,’ which requires Alimujiang’s actions to be defined as
having ‘caused irreparable national grave damage.'”

CAA President
Bob Fu said Alimjan’s sentence was the most severe for a house church leader in
nearly decade.

“The whole world
should be appalled at this injustice against innocent Christian leader
Alimujiang,” Fu said in the CAA statement. “We call upon the U.N. and people of
conscience throughout the world to strongly protest to the Chinese government
for this severe case of religious persecution.”

CAA reported
that officials had read the verdict to Alimjan while he was incarcerated on Oct.
27. Li confirmed to CAA that he had filed an appeal.

Initially the
Bureau of State Security of Kashgar detained Alimjan on “suspicions of harming
national security” on Jan. 11, 2008, according to CAA. As such charges are
generally leveled against those considered to be an enemy of the
state, Alimjan’s family feared he would be subjected to capital punishment.
Local sources have said that Alimjan, a convert from Islam in an area teeming
with separatist tensions, loves and supports the Chinese government.

“As a loyal
Chinese citizen and business entrepreneur, Alimujiang has held to high
standards, paying his taxes faithfully and avoiding a common local custom of
paying bribes for business favors,” Fu said in a previous CAA statement. “He has
also done his best to assimilate into Chinese culture, making the unusual
decision to send his children to a Chinese language school in a predominantly
Uyghur area.”

Friends of
Alimjan have said he simply wanted the freedom to quietly express his faith, a
right guaranteed to him in the Chinese constitution, according to CAA. Not only
is it illegal for him to own a Uyghur Bible, according to the advocacy
organization, but he is also prohibited from attending services at the
government-controlled Three Self Church in the area because the Xinjiang
constitution contradicts China’s constitution. He is also prohibited from
praying with foreign Christians. 

On Feb. 20, 2008,
the initial charges against him were changed to “inciting
secession” and leaking state secrets. Court officials returned Alimjan’s case to
state prosecutors in May 2008, citing lack of evidence.

This year he was
secretly tried again on July 28, only on the second charge. Previously,
attorney Li had
petitioned for and been granted permission to meet with his client on April 21.
Witnesses had seen police and a prison doctor escorting Alimjan to hospital on
March 30, and Compass sources said Alimjan had been beaten in prison, although
it was not clear who beat him or why.

When Li
questioned him, Alimjan indicated that he was not allowed to speak about his

The United
Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention ruled his arrest and detention to
be arbitrary and in violation of international law.

“The whole case
is about religious faith issues, which are being used against Alimujiang for his
conversion from Islam to Christianity by biased law enforcement agents,
prosecutors and the court,” said attorney Li. “The key for this case was the
flawed ‘Certificate for the Evidence.’ In both form and content, the certificate
was questionable. It even had no signature by the verifier at the bureau, which
violates Chinese law.”

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.
The 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.

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