Image: China Aid
By Alex Chen
According to UCA News, an Uyghur Christian pastor imprisoned for 15 years by Chinese authorities on charges of "inciting separatism" and "leaking state secrets to overseas organizations" has been released. Some rights groups have deemed these charges to be groundless.
China Aid reported that Alimjan Yimit, a 49-year-old pastor of a Protestant house church, has been released from prison in Urumqi, the capital of Uyghuristan. Now, he has returned home and is staying with his family.
After converting to Christianity in 1995, Alimjan Yimit, previously a Muslim, served as a pastor for Uyghur Christians affiliated with a Protestant house church in Kashgar, Uyghuristan. In addition, he managed a business called “Xinjiang Jiaerhao Foodstuff Company”.
Amid a surge in violence in the region, Chinese security agencies began monitoring Uyghurs, an ethnic Turkic group who are predominantly Muslim.
According to China Aid, during that period, Christian Uyghurs, who made up approximately two percent of the estimated 26 million people in the region, also faced increased pressure.
Initially, Yimit was accused of utilizing his business to propagate Christian ideology in Kashgar. Yimit was taken into custody on January 12, 2008, on charges of "inciting separatism" and "illegally disclosing state secrets to overseas organizations." These charges were brought against him following a conversation with an American Christian acquaintance.
Yimit underwent two secret trials before his final sentencing in August 2009. Unfortunately, his family members were reportedly denied attendance during these trials. Eventually, he received a 15-year prison sentence. Despite appealing it, Yimit's plea was rejected. Christian rights groups strongly criticized the verdict, asserting that it was founded on false accusations and fabricated charges.
According to the group's report, Christian Uyghurs have experienced significant persecution from Chinese state agencies for many years, much like their Muslim counterparts in the region. However, their plight has received less documentation and publication compared to that of their fellow Muslims. The United States Commission on International Religious Freedom maintains that Yimit's detention and imprisonment resulted from his religious beliefs and activities.
"Aid to the Church in Need" reports that Christianity was introduced to the Uyghurs during the 12th and 13th centuries. However, it gradually declined in the 14th century as a result of widespread conversion to Islam and the subsequent dominance of Muslim culture in the region. As per an article published by the ACN in 2021, the Lutheran Swedish Missionary Society has been present in Uyghur communities since 1892. By the 1930s, over 300 Uyghurs, primarily in Kashgar, had converted to Protestant Christianity through their efforts. Additionally, the Scheutists initiated modern Catholic missions in Uyghuristan during the 1920s and 30s, with the neighboring Apostolic Vicariate of Kansu exerting authority over them.
Following Yimit's trial and conviction, China's severe persecution of Uyghurs has garnered significant international attention. Human rights organizations assert that a considerable number, potentially up to two million Uyghurs, as well as Kazakhs and other ethnic minorities, are being held in a network of facilities referred to as "re-education" camps. The Uyghur Tribunal held in England revealed that individuals held in these concentration camps have endured a range of persecutory practices, including torture, forced labor, and coerced sterilization.