Uyghur pastor Alimujiang Yimiti was released from prison last month after serving a 15-year sentence for allegedly providing state secrets to foreign nationals, according to Voice of the Martyrs Korea. The ministry, which conducted an international campaign to send letters of encouragement to Pastor Alimujiang during his time in prison, is urging Christians to continue to pray for the pastor, and to send letters to other Christians still imprisoned for their faith.
“For the second time in a month we are overjoyed to report that a Christian prisoner on our letter writing list has been released and returned home,” says Voice of the Martyrs Korea Representative Dr. Hyun Sook Foley. The ministry previously reported on Vyacheslav Koldiaev, a church deacon released from prison in Arkhangelsk, Russia on March 3 after serving a two-year sentence.
But Representative Foley cautions that prayers are often needed more after a prisoner is released than during the imprisonment. “Former prisoners of faith often tell us that while they are in prison, the Lord feels very close to them, and then when they are released the feel overwhelmed by all the challenges of returning to normal life–especially when authorities are watching closely,” she says. “In Pastor Alimujiang’s case, his children grew up during the fifteen years he was in prison. The family was only allowed to see him for fifteen minutes every three months. The pastor will need to recover his health, and the family will need to rebuild their relationships day-to-day and discover a new ‘normal’ family routine together. We should pray that the family will experience the Lord’s comfort and strong, safe presence, and that they will know how to serve him in the coming days.”
Alimujiang Yimiti, also known as Alim, converted from Islam to Christianity in 1995 and served as a house church pastor to Uyghurs in Kashgar, Xinjiang. In 2007, authorities initially accused Alim of using his business to bring the Christian faith to Kashgar.
Representative Foley says that Alim was detained on January 12, 2008, on charges of inciting separatism and unlawfully providing state secrets to overseas organizations, due to a conversation he had with an American colleague, possibly about his interaction with authorities in 2007. “They eventually dropped the separatism charge due to a lack of evidence and then tried him a year later on the state secrets charge,” says Representative Foley. Alim was forced to remain in detention the whole time, and Alim’s family was prohibited from attending both trials.
On Aug. 6, 2009, the Kashi District Intermediate Court sentenced Alimujiang to 15 years imprisonment. It was not until Oct. 27 that year that the court notified Alimujiang’s wife and his attorney of the sentence. Efforts to appeal were unsuccessful.
Uyghur pastor Alimujiang Yimiti (file photo)
Representative Foley says while the world’s awareness of China’s large-scale detainment of Uyghurs has grown significantly since Alim’s trial and conviction, there remains little awareness that Christians are among those suffering. “There are an estimated 1 to 2 million Uyghurs, Kazakhs, and other ethnic minorities in concentration camps,” says Representative Foley. “The story of Pastor Alim is a reminder that Christians are among those imprisoned.”
Representative Foley also says that writing letters to Christians imprisoned for their faith is a ministry often neglected by Christians. “Most Christians don’t realize that it is often possible to write letters to Christians like Pastor Alim or Deacon Koldiaev, to encourage them while they are in prison,” says Representative Foley. “Christians assume that the letters would be blocked or would create further troubles for Christian prisoners, or they worry that they themselves will be tracked somehow for writing a letter. But our website maintains a list of prisoners in places where mail can be received, and where a simple letter of Christian encouragement will not create trouble for the prisoner or the letter writer. Former prisoners frequently tell us how much letters from Christians around the world meant to them during their imprisonment.”
The ministry’s website currently lists the information and addresses for 11 Christians currently imprisoned for their faith, in countries including China, North Korea, and Eritrea. The list is accessible at https://vomkorea.com/en/prisoner-profiles/.