Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Christians in Xinjiang are suffering too

Uighurs (sometimes spelt "Uyghurs" in Latin script, and pronounced "wee-ghurs") don't seem to have their problems to seek right now. Having rioted against the Han Chinese in Urumqi, capital of Xinjian Uighur Autonomous Region - whose numbers, explains Malcolm Moore, the Telegraph's Shanghai correspondent, have risen from 6% of the region's population when Mao set up the People's Republic in 1949 to 40% now - they were prevented from attending Mosque on Friday, and will not be allowed to mourn their dead according to the Chinese custom, a week after death.

There is, however, another minority to think of in Xinjiang - Christians. For example, in his 2007 book Under the heel of the Dragon - Islam, Racism, Crime and the Uighur in China, Blaine Kaltman writes:
The Chinese constitution contains a guarantee of freedom of religion for ethnic minorities. However, the Chinese Communist Party, aware of the role that the Catholic Church played in undermining Communist regimes in Eastern Europe, is suspicious of organized religious activity.
Although I'm unable to get details of how the Roman Catholic Church in Xinjiang is getting on right now, there has been evidence for some time of oppression of Chistians generally in the region, who have to worship in house churches.

Most recently, according to ChinaAid, Beitun House Church, in the A'Ler Tai area of Xinjiang, was raided resulting in the arrest of eight Christians, including two Chinese-American missionaries. Two were released, the missionaries are missing, and four are being held in an undisclosed location. Alimujiang Yimiti, who I repored last year to have been arrested for being a Christian, is sill in prison, despite the local Public Security Bureau having declared "insufficient evidence" to prove that he was "endangering national security, namely instigating separatism and stealing, penetrating, purchasing and illegally providing state secrets or intelligence for overseas organisations and individuals".

Alimujiang's crime is in fact twofold. Firstly, he converted some years ago from Islam to Chritanity, in a region where, in the trial of Christian Lou Yuanqi last December (accused of "utilizing superstition to undermine the law"), the judge acknowledged that Christians were persecuted in the region,but added: "If the Christians have more religious freedom in areas outside Xinjiang, they should consider leaving Xinjiang because Xinjiang is special".

Secondly, Alimujiang belongs to one of many house churches, whereas an undated statement on the PRC's embassy in the US states that "there are no house churches in China".

Last November, when Muslim Uighur Arzigul Turzun was abducted by the state for being pregnant with her third child and was going to be subjected to a forced abortion, two US Congressmen, Chris Smith and Joe Pitts, came forward to organise an international campaign. She was released. Days ago, in response to the riots, The Progressive published an article called Xinjiang Riots Crucial Test for Chinese Regime, in which it bemoaned
the painfully measured U.S. response to the Xinjiang violence, in which it says it is 'deeply concerned,' is 'trying to sort out . . . the facts' and calls 'on all sides to exercise restraint.'
That is, at least, a response; while Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu is said to have spoken with his Chinese counterpart for an hour on the riots, the British Government has been quiet as a churchmouse.

The Russian foreign ministy, on the other hand, has averred that the riots are an internal matter for the Chinese. And well they might: just as a central matter in the Urumqi riots are Han colonisaton of a region that is Chinese in name only, ethnic Russians, before and during the long, arid day of the USSR, pushed Westward, Eastward and Southward through the empire to give it more of a Russian character.

Over here in the UK, we are seeing the fruits of the Plantation of Ulster with Scottish protestants as the Orange marching season, celebrating the later Battle of the Boyne - whose religious and national boundaries were much more porous than many modern Catholics and Protestants wish to believe - erupts in violence again.

Northern Ireland still has some way to go, but is much improved because of the efforts of Irish, American and British statesmen concerned to preserve its Christian character. The Turks are following the fates of the Uighurs closely because of their shared ethnic and religious roots; Iran is watching because of the latter.

There are an estimated 184 dead and 1800 injured in the Urumqi riots, which would be difficult to minimise, much as China will try. While this may seem to overshadow the ever-present persecution of the region's Christians in the headlines, isn't it time to draw attention to the plight of our suffering brethren?

You can find out more about Alimujiang Yimiti and the many persecuted Christians in China at ChinaAid.


  1. Off on a minor tangent, I recently read Amy Tan's The Joy Luck Club. One of the characters' tales included the Chinese newspapers' insistence that the Japanese had not invaded an area, at the same time people in that area were being killed by Japanese soldiers. The newspapers were for propaganda only - little basis in reality. Wonder, sometimes, how far off ours are.

  2. Hear hear - over here, the Telegraph has suddenly embraced the line that wind power is the only way forward for "freen" energy, even though deep tidal power is far more reliable.


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