Social media mobilize for Raguzbay Yizbashar. Meanwhile, human rights defender Serikzhan Bilash’ Facebook accounts have been closed.
by Ma Guangyao
Breaking the wall of silence, ethnic Kazakhs and human rights defenders on social media are expressing their support for Raguzbay Yizbashar, an ethnic Kazakh imam of a government-approved mosque of Ili Kazakh Autonomous Prefecture in Xinjiang, who is serving a 23-year jail term in the jail of Kuytun, a county-level city in the same Prefecture.
Imam Raguzbay Yizbashar (whose name is transliterated in different ways) was born on March 21, 1986, and lived in Qapqal Xibe Autonomous County, part of the Ili Kazakh Autonomous Prefecture. He served there as the imam of a mosque that was part of the CCP-approved China Islamic Association.
In 2018, “official” imams were investigated too, and many of them were taken to the transformation through education camps. This also happened to imam Raguzbay Yizbashar, on January 31, 2018. He was detained by the 67th Regiment Police Station in Qapqal Xibe Autonomous County, and sent to a camp. There, he was accused of not cooperating with the camp authorities and refusing to be “reeducated.”
He was formally arrested and committed to trial for “reciting the Quran inappropriately,” which normally means maintaining ethnic Kazakh’s traditional customs and refusing to follow the CCP instructions on how to “sinicize” mosques and worship.
The court of Qapqal Xibe Autonomous County sentenced him to 23 years in jail. He will only be free in 2041.
While the CCP undoubtedly believed that this would terrorize other imams and lead them to obey all Party diktats, in fact a movement of sympathy for imam Raguzbay Yizbashar is developing beyond his circle of relatives and friends, and is supported by netizens and human rights defenders both in China and Kazakhstan.
On the other hand, the CCP and its friends are also active in contrasting the use of social media by those who denounce the persecution of ethnic Kazakhs in Xinjiang. Bitter Winter has learned that two accounts of prominent Kazakh human rights activist Serikzhan Bilash have been blocked by Facebook for “violating community standards.” With this, there are now six accounts of Serikzhan Bilash that have been blocked on Facebook in 2021. Other human rights activists who criticize China have experienced similar problems. CCP trolls bombard Facebook with complaints until the social media’s algorithm cancels the accounts.