Arrest and jailing of Alimujiang Yimiti highlights suffering of persecuted Uyghur Christians in China
Christians pray inside a church in China in this file image. (Photo: Aid to the Church in Need)
Chinese authorities have released a Uyghur Christian pastor who spent 15 years in prison for “inciting separatism” and “leaking state secrets to overseas organizations,” charges termed as “baseless” by rights groups, says a report.
Alimujiang Yimiti, 49, a Protestant house church pastor was reunited with his family after being released from prison in Urumqi, the capital of Xinjiang region, China Aid reported on March 15.
Yimiti was a Muslim before he converted to Christianity in 1995. He became a pastor for Uyghur Christians who belonged to a Protestant house church in the city of Kashgar in Xinjiang. He also ran a business, Xinjiang Jiaerhao Foodstuff Company.
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In 2007, Chinese security agencies started scrutinizing Uyghurs, a Muslim-majority ethnic Turkic group who make up the majority of the Xinjiang population amid a rise in violence in the region.
At that time, Christian Uyghurs who account for about two percent of the region’s estimated 26 million people, also came under pressure, reported papal charity Aid to the Church in Need.
Yimiti was first accused of using his business as a front to spread Christian ideology into Kashgar.
He was arrested on Jan. 12, 2008, for “inciting separatism” and “unlawfully providing state secrets to overseas organizations” due to a conversation he had with an American Christian friend, China Aid reported.
He faced secret trial twice before his final sentence in August 2009. His family members were reportedly not allowed to attend the trials. He was sentenced to 15 years imprisonment.
He appealed against the sentence but it was rejected. Christian rights groups slammed the sentence, saying it was based on fabricated charges.
His arrest and jailing brought immense suffering to the family. His wife, Gulinuer, struggled hard to raise their two children with support from local Christians and Christian groups, according to Release International, a group monitoring Christian persecution worldwide.
The group reported that for decades Christian Uyghurs have also faced severe persecution like their Muslim brethren in the region from Chinese state agencies, but their suffering has been less documented and published..
The United States Commission on International Religious Freedom says Yimiti was arrested and imprisoned for his religious beliefs and activities.
Christianity came to the Uyghur people in the 12th and 13th centuries but mostly disappeared in the 14th century due to large-scale conversion to Islam and Muslim dominance, according to Aid to Church in Need.
The Lutheran Swedish Missionary Society has operated in Uyghur communities since 1892. By the 1930s over 300 Uyghurs, primarily in Kashgar, had converted to Protestantism. Modern Catholic missions in Xinjiang were mounted by the Scheutists throughout the 1920s and 30s from the neighboring Apostolic Vicariate of Kansu under its authority, says an article published by the ACN in 2021.
Since Yimiti's trial and conviction, China’s brutal persecution of Uyghurs has grabbed global attention. Rights groups say up to two million Uyghurs as well as Kazakhs and other ethnic minorities are detained in a network of so-called “re-education camps.”
According to the Uyghur Tribunal, prisoners face various forms of persecution including torture, forced labor, and forced sterilization in the concentration camps.
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