China has imprisoned or detained at least 630 Imams

Justice For All

Imam Abidin Ayup Abidin Ayup is a respected religious leader and former imam of the Qayraq Mosque in Atush for around 30 years, and worked as a professor at the Xinjiang Islamic Institute before retiring around 20 ago. He is over 90 years old. Available evidence shows that he was likely detained in a camp sometime between January and April 2017. A court document refers to him as an inheritor of religious extremist thought and a key person for reform through education suggesting that he was detained for his religious background. The court verdict also indicated that he was already in poor health as of May 2017. According to testimony to the Xinjiang Victims Database, he is presumably detained in Kizilsu.

New report traces attempts to eviscerate transmission of Islamic religious knowledge

Justice For All in partnership with the Uyghur Human Rights Project has released a new report detailing the mass detention of Uyghur and other Turkic Muslim imams in East Turkistan. The report chronicles attempts by the Chinese government to cut off the transmission of religious knowledge across Uyghur generations.

Imam Abdul Malik Mujahid, CEO of Justice For All, said “It is critical for Imams around the world and the interfaith movement to take a serious note of China’s utter disregard to freedom of religion, educate their congregations, and join Save Uighur Campaign to end the persecution of Uighur people.”

The report, Islam Dispossed: China’s Persecution of Uyghur Imams and Religious Figures, presents a dataset of 1,046 Turkic imams and other religious figures from East Turkistan, detained for their association with religious teaching and community leadership since 2014. The data set reveals that 428 individuals have been formally sentenced to prison terms, of which 96 percent were sentenced to prison terms of five years or more, and 25 percent were sentenced to 20 years or more. The Turkic population of East Turkistan is facing its darkest era in decades, as 1-3 million people are detained in the largest concentration camps since the Nazis.

The data set confirms that religious figures have been sentenced, without due process, to prison terms for quotidian religious practice and expression protected under Chinese law and internationally recognized human rights treaties. Imams have been sentenced for “illegal” religious teaching (often to children), prayer outside a state-approved mosque, the possession of “illegal” religious materials, and communication or for travel abroad.

The figures presented are not comprehensive, given extreme secrecy and lack of transparency in the Uyghur Region, and very likely represents a small fraction of the total number of religious figures detained. Nonetheless, the data provides an alarming indication of the scale and severity of the Chinese government’s persecution of religious figures since 2014.

The report interviewed Uyghur imams abroad who described their experience of having been persistently watched, followed, scrutinized, and being given detailed orders controlling all their work. These imams fled the country when the controls reached the point where they felt that they could no longer play a positive role for their congregation and were at increased risk of detention themselves.


Justice For All is America’s largest Muslim human rights & advocacy organization with consultative status at the United Nations (DPI). Its Save Uighur campaign aims to educate and advocate for Uighur people. 


Imam Abdul Malik Mujahid
(312) 804 1962

Hena Zuberi
(626) 354-2367
[email protected]


Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Religion News Service or Religion News Foundation.

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