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China detains ethnic Kazakh Muslim for reciting Quran publicly

The arrest was seen as a renewed clampdown on religious and ethnic minorities in the communist nation
Muslims leave a Mosque after Friday prayers in Hotan, in China's Xinjiang region on June 23, 2017. Increasingly strict curbs imposed on the mostly Muslim population including ethnic minority Kazakhs have stifled life for Muslims

Muslims leave a Mosque after Friday prayers in Hotan, in China's Xinjiang region on June 23, 2017. Increasingly strict curbs imposed on the mostly Muslim population including ethnic minority Kazakhs have stifled life for Muslims. (Photo by Johannes Eisele / AFP)

Published: August 28, 2023 11:17 AM GMT
Updated: August 28, 2023 12:18 PM GMT

The authorities in China’s restive Xinjiang region have detained an ethnic Kazakh Muslim man for allegedly reciting Quranic verses during a wedding and in people’s houses, says a report.

The arrest is seen as a renewed clampdown on religious and ethnic minorities in the communist nation under the so-called “strike hard” campaign, Radio Free Asia (RFA) reported on Aug. 25.

Kusman Rehim, 56, a resident of Xinjiang's Jimsar county, was arrested on July 14, the report stated referring to Bekzat Maksutkhan, head of the Kazakhstan-based rights group Atajurt.

Police also raided his house and allegedly found a Quran, Bekzat said.

"Also, he had performed Quranic recitations in people's homes during Eid al-Adha [June 27-July 1] and taken part in a Muslim wedding," the report said.

Kusman had been locked up before due to his religious beliefs, the report added. 

The arrest comes in the backdrop of the latest 100-day “strike hard” campaign launched in Xinjiang which includes raids to the homes of the residents.

In 2017, communist-ruled China banned the recitation of the Quran in public in the region, a home to Muslim-majority ethnic Uyghur and Kazakhs.

The banning came at a time when China started mass incarceration of Uyghurs and other ethnic groups in "re-education" camps across Xinjiang, RFA reported.

An estimated one million Muslims, mostly Uyghurs, are detained in secretive detention camps in Xinjiang where they face brutal oppression including forced abortion, forced sterilization, forced birth control, rape, forced labor, torture, internment, brainwashing, and killings, reports say.

According to the authorities, reading from the Quran should only be done under the guidance of a government-assigned imam. Individuals are forbidden to discuss the holy book on their own, RFA reported.

The authorities have even restricted normal Islamic customs like the wearing of beards and veils (hijab), and Quran study groups, claiming that they were evidence of "religious extremism."

Individuals from abroad visiting Xinjiang, including those visiting relatives, should report to neighborhood committees or a local police station within three days of their arrival or risk police action, RFA reported.

The latest arrest is part of the government’s Sinicization campaign which forces minority Christians, Muslims, Buddhists, and other religious adherents to submit to the communist party control and the censorship of their religious lives which is further bolstered under President Xi Jinping.

Kusman’s younger brother Bilal, who lives in Kazakhstan, pointed out that the family has not yet received any official notification or the details of the charges laid out against Rehim.

"They just took him away," Bilal said.

Bilal stated that his brother was detained on April 21, released a month later, and then detained again on July 14.

"One reason was that he was doing a Quranic recitation at a Muslim wedding ceremony. The second reason was that the police found a Quran in his home," Bilal said.

The officials at the Jimsar county police department on Aug. 24 declined to comment on the issue.

"We don't really know about that," an unnamed operator said.

According to media reports, China has engaged in consistently restricting the Islamic practices, culture, and language of the Uyghur minority group in the country resulting in the arrests of non-adherents.

Abdurusul Memet, 71, was jailed in 2017 and died of hypertension. He learned the Quran as a child.

In the same year, Manat Hamit, another ethnic Kazakh man was jailed for "disseminating terrorism-related audiovisual material," and "incitement to racial hatred and racial discrimination" after the authorities found audio files of Quranic recitations on his computer.

In 2022, a UN team investigated China's treatment of Muslim minorities in its Xinjiang region and found "credible" evidence of torture and sexual assault including rape at detention centers in the region.

The report alleged China possibly committed crimes against humanity against the Uyghurs but stopped short of describing the actions as genocide.

China categorically denied all charges and said beefing up security in Xinjiang is a part of regular counter-insurgency measures that prohibit any insult and abuse.

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