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Ethnic Kazakh imam dies in police custody in Xinjiang

Sources claim authorities targeting Kazakh Muslim minority in similar fashion to Uyghers

Published: June 16, 2017 06:12 AM GMT

Updated: June 16, 2017 06:27 AM GMT

Ethnic Kazakh imam dies in police custody in Xinjiang

This file photo shows Kazakh nomads herding their livestock across a plain in Altay, in China's Xinjiang region. Reports say Chinese authorities are cracking down on Kazakh Muslims in a similar way to the Uyghur minority. (Photo by AFP)

An ethnic minority Kazakh imam has died in police custody in the northwestern Chinese region of Xinjiang, with authorities attributing the cause of death to "suicide," sources in the region said.

The Kazakh imam, known by a single name, Akmet, was detained last week by authorities in Xinjiang's Sanji (in Chinese, Changji) Hui Autonomous Prefecture, a source close to the case told Radio Free Asia (RFA).

"We don't know exactly what happened, why he was detained by the authorities, but two or three days later, they said he had hanged himself," the source said.

The source said the China-based Kazakh ethnic minority, many of whom are Muslims, have recently been targeted in a similar manner to the mostly Muslim Uyghur ethnic group, with a slew of restrictions preventing them from moving freely between China and neighboring Kazakhstan.

Earlier this year, a prominent Kazakh imam known as Okan was jailed for 10 years by a court in Habahe county, Altay (Aletai) Prefecture, for performing traditional funeral prayers in accordance with Islamic customs, Kazakh sources said.

Okan's jailing came three years after the sentencing of Habuli, an imam from a mosque near the regional capital Urumqi three years earlier, they said.

Meanwhile, the ruling Chinese Communist Party appears increasingly concerned about cross-border movements and communication between Kazakhs within its own borders and those in Kazakhstan.

"Local religious affairs bureau leaders and village chiefs have been putting pressure on [Kazakhs in China] to cut off all ties with people in Kazakhstan, including unfriending anyone on [smartphone messaging app] WeChat who is in Kazakhstan," one local Kazakh told RFA after requesting anonymity.

"There was one Kazakh guy from Tacheng district who was sentenced to eight years' imprisonment for posting something on WeChat about the Kazakh government's immigration policies," the source said.


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