China Sentences Uighur Man to 7 Years for Viewing Politically ‘Sensitive’ Film

A man rides his motorcycle in front of a mosque at a village near the city of Turpan in China's remote far western region of Xinjiang, May 20, 2006.

A man named Elia Yasin, a member of the Uighur ethnic minority, has been sentenced to seven years in prison by Chinese authorities for watching a film about Muslim migration that was deemed politically “sensitive.”

The Washington Post reports that Chinese officials also said Yasin was possibly planning to “wage jihad” abroad.

The title and details of the movie that got Yasin arrested last year were not specified. The security chief of Yasin’s village told Radio Free Asia that the accused man and his family “showed no signs of opposing the government” and were much too impoverished to contemplate international jihad even if they had been so inclined.

“As a security chief, I am having a hard time explaining these charges to the people in my village. None of this makes any sense. It is very unjust,” he declared.

Radio Free Asia notes that Yasin’s two sisters and their husbands have also been detained, despite having three to five children each to care for. When RFA called to find out if Yasin’s sisters and brothers-in-law would also receive prison sentences, the Chinese police hung up on them.

The situation may not be so difficult to understand in light of China’s crackdown against Uighur militants, which the Washington Post recalls included a Chinese paramilitary raid that killed 28 Uighur suspects after flushing them out of a cave with flame throwers.

Furthermore, Chinese authorities have “censored sermons delivered at mosques, forced public servants to forsake their fast and eat during the holy month of Ramadan, and have made devout Muslim men and women shave their bears and remove their veils,” according to the Post.

“China wants Uyghurs everywhere to know that the state is always watching them,” Memet Toxti, a Uighur exile and former official in the World Uighur Congress who currently lives in Canada, told Radio Free Asia.

“Punishing entire families is a method commonly used to silence Uyghurs before any acts of resistance can take place,” Toxti explained.

The UK Guardian cites Uighur exiles and human-rights groups who say “China has never presented convincing evidence of the existence of a cohesive militant group fighting against the government, and that much of the unrest can be traced back to frustration at controls over the culture and religion of the Uighur people, who make up the majority of the population in the far north-western province” of Xinjiang.