While countless mosques have been shut down or converted into non-religious venues in Xinjiang, some Muslims have lost entire families to detention.
In Xinjiang’s Shihezi city, authorities recently shut down a mosque and converted it into a training base for the military. Its moon-and-star symbol was dismantled long ago and already had a Chinese flag hoisted in its premises. Bitter Winter’s reporter was not allowed to enter the building, which is under tight police surveillance at the moment.
As per a source, several believers were arrested from the mosque earlier this year. Those included a 17-year-old Hui girl and her mother, both of whom are currently detained at a “transformation through education” camp. The girl used to study Quran at the mosque.
Another mosque will soon be converted into an entertainment venue, and to keep the believers away in the meantime, government officials have started living in its premises. In a nearby area, after the authorities shut down a mosque and detained its imams at a camp, cameras were installed in public domain to ensure no one was practicing Islam or speaking to reporters.
But beyond these shutdowns, many Muslims in Xinjiang have lost their entire families to detention.
Xeyrigül (pseudonym), a Muslim woman in her sixties has ten relatives who are currently detained at a “transformation through education” camp. Her daughter, Amanda (pseudonym), was taken away in February this year.
She reveals that the officials went through her daughter’s phone and detained her because of a photo. “The photo was taken several years ago when my daughter and her son were in a park, and she was wearing a headscarf. They said that wearing a headscarf meant that she was religious,” the elderly woman reveals.
Her daughter is still in custody and Xeyrigül hasn’t been allowed to see her even once. She is also worried that given the poor conditions at the camp, Amanda might be suffering even more as she was already ill when she was taken away.
At the same time as her daughter, authorities also detained the woman’s nephews. One of them was an imam, and the other committed the “crime” of watching a religious movie Genesis. One of their wives was arrested as well, and three of them were handed ten-year prison sentences.
The woman’s daughter-in-law was detained from Ili Prefecture last year because when her father passed away, she wore a white cloth on her head. The region has a policy against mourning attire, and even though the young woman was a government employee, she was taken into custody.
Another five of her relatives, all of who are part of her elder sister’s family are currently under detention at a “transformation through education” camp.
When asked how she feels about so many of her relatives being arrested, she said, “The state doesn’t let people believe in Islam. What can we do? The current situation is like a high-voltage wire. We have our opinions but don’t dare to speak.”
With one million Muslims detained at “transformation through education” camps, one can imagine countless such nightmares being lived across Xinjiang.
Reported by Li Zaili