Alimujiang Yimiti, whose name is also spelled as Alimjan Yimit, is an ex-Muslim and currently a house church leader, who was detained January 12, by security forces because of his evangelical activities, local Christians said. Officials already closed Alimujiang's business in September, for allegedly using it "as a cover to preach Christianity among people of Uyghur ethnicity," BosNewsLife learned.
While he was in prison, unrelated protests broke out in Tibet and later Xinjiang, in which some 400 Uyghurs were apparently detained. His family now fears Chinese authorities will use these demonstrations to brand him "a separatist," a crime punishable by death, Christian rights investigators said Wednesday April 9. Sentencing is expected by the end of the month.
His arrest followed that of another Uyghur Christian, Osman Imin, on November 19, 2007, for assisting foreigners in alleged "illegal religious activities" and "revealing state secrets," said China Aid Association (CAA), a Christian religious rights group. Police reportedly also detained and tortured Osman in 2004. Earlier this year another Uyghur Christian was apparently arrested in the city of Kashgar, but details remain sketchy.
CAA and other groups have accused the government of launching a "coordinated campaign" against Uyghur Christians and house churches, ahead of the upcoming Olympic Games in Beijing. Chinese authorities have expressed concerns that evangelical Christians will use that event to spread Christianity in this Communist nation.
Authorities have denied reports of human rights abuses, saying Christians are free to worship within the official, government backed, denominations.
However observers say articles in Xinjiang's constitution contradict China’s national constitution, making it illegal for Uyghurs to attend services at the government-approved Three Self Church in Xinjiang. The legislation apparently forces them to meet in unregistered house churches. In addition, Uyghur Bibles are not printed in China and very difficult to obtain, Christians said.
The situation makes it extra difficult for believers like Alimjan, who converted to Christianity from Islam over 10 years ago and became active in the growing Uyghur church. He also became a successful Christian businessman, according to his friends. In 1997, an American company, the Xinjiang Taipingyang Nongye Gongsi, reportedly hired Alimjan as an interpreter and later offered him a full-time job at their premises in the town of Hotan in southern Xinjiang.
Alimjan later left the company, and moved back to Urumqi, the regional capital, where he was reportedly hired as project manager for the Xinjiang Jiaerhao Foodstuff Co. During his employment with both foreign-owned companies, officials from the local State Security Bureau – responsible for matters of national security – "regularly called Alimjan in for interrogation but forbade him to discuss the subject of these interrogations with anyone," claimed Compass Direct News, a news agency investigating reported cases of persecution.
He was allegedly physically abused by police, who also searched his house regularly and seized his personal computer, before detaining him this year. His detention comes amid mounting concerns about the whereabouts of other Chinese church leaders, BosNewsLife established Wednesday, April 9.
CAA said at least eight recently arrested church leaders remain detained in China's Sichuan Province, which it claimed, could result in up to three years of "reeducation through labor." At least two church leaders are already serving administrative detention on charges of involvement in an "evil cult", a charge often applied by law enforcement agencies against members of house churches.
They were arrested late March for activities that included participating in a Sunday School. CAA said the detained Christians are all members of the Lao Ma Tou Church, or 'Old Port Church', an evangelical congregation established some 10 years ago.