Uyghur woman re-sentenced for teaching youth the Quran

Heyrinisa Memet had just completed a 10-year prison term after a 2014 crackdown.
By Shohret Hoshur for RFA Uyghur
Uyghur woman re-sentenced for teaching youth the Quran Watchtowers loom over a high-security facility near what is believed to be a re-education camp where mostly Muslim ethnic minorities are detained, on the outskirts of Hotan, in northwestern China's Xinjiang region, May 31, 2019.
Greg Baker/AFP

Soon after completing a 10-year prison term, a Uyghur woman was sentenced to another 14 years in jail for attempting to split China by teaching the Quran to teenagers, authorities with knowledge of the situation said.

Heyrinisa Memet, in her mid-40s, had been previously sentenced during a crackdown in 2014 after a “terrorist attack” in Xinjiang that Chinese authorities blamed on separatist Uyghur Muslims.

Within days of her release, she was sentenced again on June 11 for activities back in 2014 — providing religious instruction to youth at the request of her neighbors — the director of security of Zulkum village in Kashgar prefecture said, insisting on not being identified for fear of reprisal.

“Her crime was teaching religious content to kids,” he said. “She wasn’t changing those kids’ ideology, she was just teaching them religious content.”

In recent years, Chinese authorities have punished large numbers of Uyghurs in Xinjiang for religious offenses, including teaching the Quran to children, according to leaked Chinese government documents, data compiled by Uyghur rights groups, and accounts of former detainees from “re-education” camps.

Authorities have criminalized such activities because they believe that Uyghurs use religion to incite subversion of state sovereignty, endanger social stability, and advocate religious extremism, terrorism and ethnic separatism.

Memet was one of three people from Zulkum village sentenced at closed-door trials in Makit county of Kashgar prefecture on June 11, according to the village security director and to an officer at the village police station.

Two other Uyghurs from the community who had finished serving prison sentences were tried anew as well, said the village security director, who like others in the report, declined to be named so as to speak freely.

“It’s been one and a half years since their release,” he said. “There was no problem, but they were arrested only because they were in prison before.”

They were sentenced to 18 years in prison for listening to audio recordings or watching videos, he said. 

“There was no mention of extremism, but they were keeping those audio and videos,” the village security director said. “They were accused of having hatred towards Han Chinese people, but there was no evidence.”

Authorities informed their families that their previous “education” was not sufficient, so they were taken away for further “education,” he said.

A Uyghur passes before the Id Kah Mosque in Kashgar city in northwestern China's Xinjiang region, July 13, 2023. (Pedro Pardo/AFP)
A Uyghur passes before the Id Kah Mosque in Kashgar city in northwestern China's Xinjiang region, July 13, 2023. (Pedro Pardo/AFP)

Previous sentence

The village security director went on to say that authorities first sentenced Memet when she was swept up in a crackdown following a “terrorist attack” on a market in Xinjiang’s capital Urumqi on May 22, 2014. 

On that morning, five assailants in two sport utility vehicles drove into a busy street market, tossing out explosives and mowing down the mainly Han Chinese shoppers before colliding with each other and exploding. More than 40 people, including four of the assailants, were killed, and over 90 others injured.

The attack occurred amid a string of violent incidents in Xinjiang that officials blamed on separatist Uyghur Muslims.

At the time, activists said the violence was being driven by authorities’ restrictive and discriminatory policies directed at Uyghurs, and the belief that only Han Chinese migrants were benefiting from economic growth in the region.

A police officer in Makit county told Radio Free Asia that some of the Uyghurs sentenced during the 2014 crackdown had completed their terms, but were transferred to jail upon release. 

Some were kept in jail for a month, some for a year, and others were sentenced again, he said.

Among them were three people from Zulkum village who were sentenced up to 18 years in prison, he said, but could not provide further details. 

Translated by RFA Uyghur. Edited by Roseanne Gerin and Malcolm Foster.


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