At a time when Muslims around the world are celebrating a Edi-al Fitr, reports have come in from China saying that the Communist government has imprisoned as many as 630 imams in the Xinjiang region.
The number of the detained include Islamic clerics as well as other Muslim religious figures. This is reportedly the sum total of the clerics imprisoned since 2014, according to new research by a Uyghur rights group.
The research report was made by the Uyghur Human Rights Project and shared with the BBC, the British broadcaster said.
18 Imprisoned Clerics Die During Detention
The report also said that at least 18 of the imprisoned clerics died during detention. They were incarcerated on grounds that they were "propagating extremism" and gathering crowds to disturb social order. China also slapped charges of inciting separatism on the detained clerics.
The report was prepared after tracking the fate of 1,046 Muslim clerics, the vast majority of who are Uyghurs. The researchers went through court documents, family testimony and media reports.
While more than 300 clerics were sent into detention, others were sent to the "re-education" camps in Xinjiang where the Chinese authorities carry out cultural training to Muslims to wean them away from hardline Islam.
In November last year, the Radio Free Asia had reported that China detained hundreds of Muslim imams in the restive Xinjiang province. The detention of imams has paralyzed the religious life of Muslims in the province, with even funeral rites not being performed.
Of nearly 10 million Uighur Muslims in the region, nearly two million are in various forms of imprisonment, mostly held in a vast network of internment camps where Muslims are forced to undergo cultural transformation.
Terror and Secessionism
China says the Turkic-speaking native people of the Xinjiang region support terrorism and secessionism. Knife attacks by Uighur rebels were a common feature in the last several years, until Beijing tightened the grip on the region after Xi Jinping became the president.
In 2014, before the internment camps became a reality, China's State Internet Information Office (SIIO) had said that the Uighur rebels were propagating terror videos and jihadi-supporting literature throughout the region. "Terror video and audio products have become a major instigator of the high incidence of terrorist activities at present," the SIIO had said.
"These materials, which propagate Jihad, terrorism and religious extremism, have been spread incessantly in China ... They have had a strong instigation effect and are extremely harmful," the SIIO said.