BEIJING – Reports from China’s Muslim-majority Xinjiang region revealed earlier this week that a Uighur Muslim woman was detained after retweeting social media posts quoting the Qur’an and other religious content.
“I fear that this woman may be severely punished for incitement to extreme religious thinking in the current climate that is extremely repressive of [Islam],” Dilxat Raxit, spokesman for the Germany-based World Uyghur Congress group representing the Turkic-speaking ethnic group, told RFA on Tuesday, May 9.
The 26-year-old member of the Muslim Uighur ethnic group was detained in Korla city on May 7 after forwarding posts that carried devotional Islamic messages, including quoting from Muslim scripture and praising Allah.
She is now being held under criminal detention on suspicion of promoting “extremist religious thought,” sources in the region told RFA.
An employee who answered the phone at the government-backed website Licheng Online Police, which received the initial “tip-off” about the woman’s posts on the popular chat service QQ, confirmed the reports of the woman’s detention.
“We work against forbidden content that promotes separatism, or damages ethnic unity, or that is forbidden,” the employee said.
“There is also extremist religious content that you’re not allow to repost, and she reposted it; she reposted that kind of thing many times,” he said, adding that quotations from the Qur’an or about Allah are “against the law.”
He said the severity of the woman’s punishment would depend on which laws she was judged to have broken.
“People who read this sort of extremist content can undergo personality changes over the long term, so if we don’t nip it in the bud, she could become unrecognizable,” he said.
Meanwhile, an internet user based in Xinjiang said the Qur’an is banned from open sales in bookshops in the region.
“I have experienced something like this as well,” said the internet user, who has previously been accused of “propagating extremist religious content as text and images.”
“It was of people wearing Islamic dress, black from head to foot, and the star and crescent moon symbol of the Muslim faith,” the user said.
“When I retweeted it, I got a message back saying that it had been deleted.”
“The Qur’an is banned from sale in public places, and it’s a very sensitive issue; it’s banned,” he said.
“I have been to several bookshops … and asked to buy it, to read by myself, and they said it is currently under review.”
“The government is currently approving a new version of the Quran,” he said.
An employee who answered the phone at the Korla municipal police department hung up the phone when contacted by RFA on Monday.
An official who answered the phone at the municipal branch of China’s powerful Cyberspace Administration confirmed that any content promoting “separatist” views would be deleted.
“The internet police will delete any images it regards as sub-standard, and there are also appropriate punishments,” the official said.
“The Qur’an is regarded as pretty separatist.”
“The other thing is people wearing beards and dressed entirely in black, which has a kind of separatist feel to it,” he said.
Asked if such content is believed by China to be linked to terrorism, the official declined to comment.
“I can’t read out all of our requirements from this document for you; it’s a classified document,” the employee said. “I can’t tell you all of it.”