A Uyghur woman abducted from her home in China's far-western Xinjiang region in the middle of the night more than four years ago was sentenced to 14 years in prison for providing religious instruction to children in her neighborhood and hiding copies of the Quran, sources with knowledge of the situation and local police said.
Hasiyet Ehmet, now 57 and a resident of Manas (in Chinese, Manasi) county in Changji Hui Autonomous Prefecture in Xinjiang, has not been heard from since she was abducted by authorities in May 2017, said the source who requested anonymity for fear of reprisal by Chinese authorities.
Police from the county’s No. 3 police station broke into Hasiyet’s home and put a black hood over her head, refusing her request to put on other clothes and gather her medicine before they took her away, according to the person with knowledge of the situation.
A Manas county court official confirmed that Hasiyet Ehmet had been sentenced to 14 years.
“It was because of teaching kids the Quran and hiding two copies of Quran when authorities were confiscating them, and later getting caught,” the official said. “These were the reasons for her sentences.”
Nine years before her arrest, Hasiyet’s husband was convicted of “separatism” charges and sentenced to life in prison in 2009, the source said.
Hasiyet had stopped teaching children two years before her arrest because of health problems. She also refrained from attending public events, said the source.
Chinese authorities have targeted and arrested numerous Uyghur businessmen, intellectuals, and cultural and religious figures in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region for years as part of a campaign to monitor, control, and assimilate members of the minority group purportedly to prevent religious extremism and terrorist activities.
Many of them have been among the 1.8 million Uyghurs and other Turkic minorities believed to be held in a network of detention camps in Xinjiang since 2017. Beijing has said that the camps are vocational training centers and has denied widespread and documented allegations that it has mistreated Muslims living in Xinjiang.
Hasiyet was arrested along with some of her neighbors and held for 15 days after questioning, said the chairman of the local neighborhood committee, a grassroots-level organization in China that monitors residents. Authorities arrested her a second time that September and sentenced her.
Staff at the Manas county police department declined to answer questions about Hasiyet, only telling RFA that there were not many Uyghur police officers or Uyghur residents who lived in the county, which covers nearly 9,200 square kilometers (3,550 square miles).
Changji Hui Autonomous Prefecture has a population of more than 1.6 million people, according to China’s latest census data on Xinjiang, issued in June 2021. The information did not break down the population at the county level.
A police officer in Manas did not deny that Hasiyet was in detention but said it was a “state secret” and provided no further details.
Another source with knowledge of the situation told RFA’s Uyghur Service after it first reported on Hasiyet’s case that authorities sentenced the woman to 14 years in prison — seven for teaching the Quran and giving religious lessons to local children and another seven for hiding two copies of the sacred text during a time when police began confiscating religious books from Manas county residents.
Authorities did not try Hasiyet on the charges in court, but instead sent a court verdict letter to her family, the person said. But because Hasiyet’s husband was serving a life sentence in prison, her parents were dead, and the whereabouts of her 13-year-old daughter were unknown, the letter may have been delivered to her husband’s family.
“The verdict statement briefly summarized the reasons for her abduction along with her prison term,” the source wrote to RFA.
Translated by the Uyghur Service. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.