Ethnic Kazakh detained for Quranic recitations at Muslim wedding in Xinjiang

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Ethnic Kazakh detained for Quranic recitations at Muslim wedding in Xinjiang

Chinese authorities in the northwestern region of Xinjiang have detained an ethnic Kazakh man for performing Quranic recitations – including at a Muslim wedding, Radio Free Asia has learned.

Kusman Rehim, 56, was detained on July 14 after performing readings from the Quran in a melodious art form revered across the Islamic world, the head of the Kazakhstan-based rights group Atajurt, said in an interview on Thursday.

“Kusman Rehim was arrested on July 14,” Atajurt chief Bekzat Maksutkhan said. “The main reason was that the police found a Quran in his home.”

“Also, he had performed Quranic recitations in people’s homes during Eid al-Adha [June 27-July 1] and taken part in a Muslim wedding,” Bekzat said.

The arrest comes against a backdrop of renewed attacks on religious worship under Chinese President Xi Jinping, with Christians, Muslims, Buddhists and other religious adherents forced to submit to party control and the censorship of their religious lives under the government’s “sinicization” program.

However, recitations of the Quran have been banned since 2017, when China began the mass incarceration of Uyghurs and other ethnic groups in “re-education” camps across Xinjiang.

Authorities claimed that normal Islamic customs like the wearing of beards and veils and Quran study groups were evidence of “religious extremism.”

“Ethnic unity’

China has also targeted Muslim communities with “ethnic unity” campaigns under which Han Chinese “relatives” put pressure on them to give up fasting for Ramadan, drink alcohol and eat pork.

Bekzat said Kusman Rehim, who hails from Xinjiang’s Jimsar county, had been locked up before due to his religious beliefs, and was released after Atajurt publicized his case.

Kusman’s younger brother Bilal, who lives in Kazakhstan, said his brother was detained on April 21, released a month later, then detained again on July 14.

“One reason was that he was doing a Quranic recitation at a Muslim wedding ceremony,” Bilal said. “The second reason was that the police found a Quran in his home.”

He said the family has yet to receive any official notification of his brother’s detention, nor any information on the charges against him.

“They just took him away,” he said.

A switchboard operator who answered the phone at the Jimsar county police department on Thursday declined to transfer RFA’s call.

“We don’t really know about that,” the operator said, before hanging up the phone.

Repeated calls to local police stations were returned to the same switchboard.

Religious crimes

China recently announced a 100-day “strike hard” campaign in Xinjiang, which typically include police raids on Uyghur households, and tighter restrictions on Islamic practices and curbs on the culture and language of the ethnic minority group.

An elderly Uyghur serving a nearly 14-year prison sentence in Xinjiang following his arrest in 2017 for studying religion as a child and for committing other religious “offenses” died of hypertension while in jail, a local police officer said earlier this month.

Abdurusul Memet, 71, was serving a 13-year-and-11-month sentence for learning the Quran between November 1964 and March 1965 at the time, according to the Xinjiang Victims’ Database.

In 2017, another ethnic Kazakh man, Manat Hamit, was jailed for “disseminating terrorism-related audiovisual material,” and “incitement to racial hatred and to racial discrimination” after the authorities found audio files of Quranic recitations on his computer.

—RFA report, Aug 25, 2023