A Uyghur Muslim preacher prisoner serving a five-year sentence in a China prison has died. Omar Huseyin, 55, reportedly died of liver cancer in China's far-western Xinjiang prison. He was jailed for making a religious pilgrimage abroad, a police officer who works in the district where the preacher resided said.
Although Huseyin died in February, Chinese authorities suppressed the news for almost 10 months till it became public earlier this week. Huseyin was detained by Chinese authorities in September 2017 for visiting the holy city of Mecca in 2015 during a widespread crackdown on prominent Uyghurs and Islamic clergy in the Chinese mainland.
Dead in His Cell
Huseyin reportedly died of liver cancer while still serving his five-year jail term. He was the former hatip, or preacher, at the Qarayulghun Mosque in Korla, the second-largest city in Xinjiang and known in Chinese as Ku'erle.
Authorities also arrested Huseyin's three brothers along with him in 2017, one of whom had died in jail while serving a 12-year term for engaging in religious activities.
According to a Radio Free Asia report, Huseyin was in good health when officials detained him for "re-education" in one of the many facilities scattered around Xinjiang where they detained an estimated 1.8 million Uyghurs and other Muslims in an effort to stop religious extremism and terrorism.
According to Mahmut Moydun, a Uyghur prisoner who escaped from a different Korla jail and was currently hiding out, the conditions at detention facilities have gotten worse because more prisoners—including the preacher—had died over the past two years.
The health of prisoners housed in municipal prisons has gotten worse, according to a Korla resident who asked to remain anonymous for reasons of safety, according to poor food quality, the rigors of prison labor, protracted political study sessions, and unending interrogations.
Worsening Conditions in Prisons
Huseyin was hauled away in 2017 for "re-education" at a time when Korla's internment camp facilities were being turned into prisons, he claimed. The outlet claimed that asked the political commissar of the Qarayulghun police station in Korla for a list of prisoners who passed away in 2021 and 2022, but he refused.
The commissar said that Huseyin's information might be found at the police station in the district where the preacher formerly lived.
"I cannot send you that information," he said. "There is no such thing."
Later, a district police officer verified that Huseyin had passed away on February 2 while incarcerated in the district prison.
"He was healthy and was not sick at all before," the officer said. "We learned that he died of late-stage liver cancer in the [prison] hospital. He died while being treated without being released."
The policeman referred to a period prior to the 2017 crackdown when authorities encouraged Uyghurs to apply for passports and travel abroad, saying, "At the time, the [Chinese Communist] Party and the government organized delegations to make the pilgrimage to Mecca, and he went there as a delegation member."
The officer claimed that after being detained by officials for undertaking a pilgrimage to Mecca, Huseyin was tried, found guilty, and given a five-year prison term.
A confidential trial document about Huseyin was given to his family by authorities in 2020, according to the policeman, who did not provide any details. Authorities gave his family back his body after he passed away in February.
According to a Uyghur emigrant from Korla who now lives in Turkey, Omar Huseyin was one of four brothers, ranging in age from 50 to 62, from the same family who were taken in by officials for "re-education" because they were deemed a security danger for taking part in religious activities.
The émigré claimed that in addition to the preacher, his older brother Samat Huseyin also passed away in prison in 2021.