Ij reportika Logo

Uyghur spy turns to religion and lands in Xinjiang prison

A Uyghur official who spied on fellow Uyghurs in Xinjiang is serving a seven-year prison sentence on the charge of religious extremism after he was moved by Muslim sermons and gave up smoking and drinking alcohol, area authorities said.

The change of heart in Yasin Tursun, a Chinese Communist Party member and secretary of Terim village in southern Xinjiang’s Peyziwat county, pleased his family but upset authorities, the sources said, insisting they not be identified for security reasons. 

After struggling to find a reason to arrest and convict him, authorities accused him of being “two-faced” and sentenced him to prison in October 2019, two policemen and a county official told Radio Free Asia. He is estimated to be about 55 now.

Tursun’s case highlights how Beijing has clamped down harshly on the mostly Muslim Uyghurs, and their religious practices — including prayer and abstaining from alcohol and fasting during the month of Ramadan — in the far-western region of Xinjiang in the name of suppressing religious extremism and terrorism. 

It also shows how Chinese authorities have enlisted Uyghurs to spy on their own people. 


When Tursun ended up embracing Muslim practices, authorities in 2017 fell back on the common accusation of being “two-faced” — used by the Chinese Communist Party to describe officials or party members who are either corrupt or ideologically disloyal to the party. 

Among Uyghurs, it is applied to those who show an interest in carrying on their cultural and religious traditions. In Tursun’s case, authorities were upset that he gave up alcohol and tobacco, promoted their abstinence and listened to Muslim sermons, the sources said.

Tursun was handed over to the authorities, and following an investigation was sentenced to seven years in prison, they said.  

Some village cadres — including Tursun — who worked as spies had unexpectedly inspiring experiences at secret and public religious events, said an official from Peyziwat county, called Jiashi in Chinese.

They were moved by the orderliness and kindness at these gatherings, as well as by the eloquent speeches of religious leaders and their insightful interpretations of the world, humanity and life, said the official, asking not to be identified.

This caused some of the Uyghur cadres to disengage from their work activities, and even resign, he said.

‘Swayed’ by religion

One police officer from Terim village said all former Uyghur cadres from the the second sub-village had been arrested. 

“We had 10-16 cadres, but now there are none left,” he told RFA.

The security director of Terim’s fifth sub-village said two “two-faced” Uyghur cadres, including Tursun, had been influenced by “religious extremism.” 

Tursun was arrested for his association with religious individuals, while the other cadre, Rahman Ghopur, about 33 years old, was arrested for promoting the idea of not crying at funerals, he said.

Tursun was removed from his role because of “bad habits” such as abstaining from alcohol, the security director said.

“Yasin Tursun was removed from his position because he made his wife wear modest clothes and he himself grew a beard,” he told RFA. “The investigation indicated that he had been influenced by religious individuals. I heard he was swayed while working at religious events.”

The security director said he was in the courtroom when Tursun was sentenced for “religious extremism,” and that others who were listed among his mobile phone contacts faced similar circumstances.

A second officer from the police station in Terim said Tursun’s previous lifestyle of spying had nearly destroyed his family, but after he embraced religion, his relationships with his wife and children improved.

Translated by RFA Uyghur. Edited by Roseanne Gerin and Malcolm Foster.