Authorities in Xinjiang have given a 20-year jail sentence to a Uyghur woman who at one time staunchly supported China’s anti-extremism campaign targeting the mostly Muslim ethnic group in the restive northwestern region, while two of her sons were each jailed for 17 years, local security officials said.
Hurshide Kerim was a member of the Communist Party’s "propaganda vanguard," a group of Uyghurs who traveled around Xinjiang and publicly denounced “religious extremism” under China’s nearly 10-year-old “strike hard” campaign aimed at what Beijing deems to be terrorism and extremism in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region.
Authorities accused her of being a “two-faced” Uyghur—a derogatory term for local people who work for the government but also observe elements of Uyghur or Muslim culture—after police found an “illegal” book in her home in Ghulja county, known as Yining in Chinese, the sources said.
Kerim’s case illustrates how some Uyghurs were amenable to serve as propaganda tools for Chinese authorities in exchange for higher salaries, free travel, and promotions by denouncing the traditional practices and beliefs of their ancient Turkic culture. But like ordinary Uyghurs, they were not immune from arrest or detention if authorities discovered that they had willingly or unwillingly committed infractions.
They also face the scorn of ordinary Uyghurs for serving a Chinese government that multiple Western countries and human rights groups accuse of committing genocide or crimes against humanity for their treatment of the Turkic minorities of Xinjiang.
Kerim, who has six children and more than 10 grandchildren, was 55 years old when she was arrested in 2017 and is serving her sentence in Baykol Women's Prison in Ghulja, said a security official in Qarayaghach town, where the woman resides.
When Chinese authorities began the strike hard campaign against in 2014, they imposed severe penalties on Uyghurs, arrested them arbitrarily, and began a propaganda campaign against the group’s ethnic customs and religious faith under the guise of promoting modernity. As part of the campaign, authorities confiscated and burned a vast number of religious and cultural books.
Authorities target sons
Authorities also charged Kerim’s two sons, Merdan and Mewlan for violating China’s “planned birth policy” in the past under which ethnic minorities were allowed to have up to three children, though some Uyghurs had larger families. But in 2017, the Chinese government began enforcing family planning policies in Xinjiang as a population-control measure.
Kerim, a villager from Qarayaghach town, from which several Uyghur propagandists were hired, was taken away when authorities began mass arbitrary arrests and detentions began in Xinjiang in 2017, town security officials said. Local police also arrested those she previously criticized.
The woman was active in propaganda work in the neighborhood, said one security official who worked with her, but who declined to be identified so he could speak freely.
“She was [part of the] propaganda vanguard that gave speeches against extremism during meetings,” he told RFA. “The police arrested her after suddenly searching her house, because they found an illegal book.”
The security official said he had no further information on Kerim and did not know what type of book police found in her home, whether it belonged to her, or if she had confiscated it while working.
An employee at the local judicial department confirmed that authorities sentenced Kerim to 20 years in jail, but also did not know the title of the confiscated book or its contents.
“Hurshide was a good and well-dressed lady, a Communist Party member, and worked 30 years for the government,” she told RFA. “The government sentenced her to prison for her mistake.”
Kerim has three daughters and three sons, two of whom were sent for political “re-education” and later sentenced to 17 years in prison, she said.
Other collaborators arrested
Uyghur vanguard propagandists in other parts of Xinjiang also have suffered the same fate as Kerim, with demotions and punishments.
Patigul Dawut, who enjoyed a degree of fame for a while when she worked as a member of the propaganda vanguard in Korla, the second-largest city in Xinjiang and known as Kuerle in Chinese, was arrested in autumn 2017.
Authorities took her in for “allowing others to preach religion” because workers were said to have delivered Islamic sermons at her carpet factory, her husband told RFA at the time.
Dawut was ordered to serve six months in a local detention center, despite suffering from a number of health complications, said her spouse, Naman Bawdun, a Uyghur former head and Communist Party secretary of a village in Korla.
Bawudun, whom authorities had recognized as a “vanguard of ethnic unity” was arrested with Dawut, while their daughter, a police officer, was fired from her job.
Other Uyghurs who previously worked for Chinese authorities also have come under attack in recent years.
Nur Bekri, the highest-ranking ethnic Uyghur in the Chinese government, who served as the head of China’s National Energy Administration and vice chairman of the National Development and Reform Commission, was arrested on corruption charges in 2018. He was highly unpopular among Uyghurs because he supported China’s repression of Muslim “extremists” and advocated Chinese-language education for Uyghur students.
Kadir Memet, former deputy chief of the Urumqi police department, was detained by authorities for unknown reasons in 2019. The highest-ranking Uyghur police officer in the regional capital was reviled for ruthlessly implementing Beijing’s repressive policies against members of his ethnic community, sources told RFA at that time.
Translated by RFA Uyghur. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin. Edited by Paul Eckert.
This content originally appeared on Radio Free Asia and was authored by By Shohret Hoshur for RFA Uyghur.