Washington: A former Uyghur Muslim preacher, Omar Huseyin, who was arrested in 2017 for making a pilgrimage to Mecca, was confirmed dead in China's Xinjiang prison, reported Radio Free Asia (RFA).

He was serving a five-year sentence in China's far-western Xinjiang region. He died of liver cancer in prison in February, according to a police officer who works in the district where the preacher resided.
Huseyin, 55, was the former hatip, or preacher, at the Qarayulghun Mosque in Korla, known as Ku'erle in Chinese and the second-largest city in Xinjiang.

Authorities apprehended him in September 2017 amid a widespread crackdown on Islamic clergy and other prominent Uyghurs, for travelling to the holy city of Mecca in 2015.

Authorities also detained Huseyin's three brothers in 2017, one of whom was serving a 12-year sentence for participating in religious activities, and died in prison, reported RFA.

Huseyin was healthy before authorities took him away for 're-education' in one of the hundreds of facilities across Xinjiang where authorities detained an estimated 1.8 million Uyghurs and other Muslims purportedly to prevent religious extremism and terrorism.

Mahmut Moydun, an Uyghur inmate who escaped from another prison in Korla and was in hiding, told RFA that conditions at detention centres had been deteriorating because more inmates, including the preacher, had died in the last two years.

A Korla resident, who declined to be named for safety reasons, told RFA that the health of inmates incarcerated in city prisons had deteriorated due to low-quality food, the intensity of prison labour, long political study sessions, and endless interrogations.

Huseyin was taken away for 're-education' in 2017 at a time when authorities were transforming internment camp centres in Korla into prisons, he said.

The RFA contacted the Qarayulghun police station in Korla for a list of inmates who died in 2021 and 2022, but the political commissar refused to provide it. When asked for information about Huseyin, he said the police station in the district where the preacher used to reside could provide it.

"I cannot send you that information," he said, adding, "There is no such thing."

A district policeman later confirmed that Huseyin was serving a sentence in the district prison and that he died on Feb. 2, reported RFA.

Meanwhile, Omar Huseyin, one of four brothers, ages 50 to 62, from the same family hauled in by authorities for 're-education' because they were considered a security threat for participating in religious activities, according to a Uyghur emigre from Korla who now lives in Turkey.

Besides the preacher, his elder brother, Samat Huseyin, also died in prison in 2021, reported RFA.
Two of the brothers, Rahman and Ablet, 'graduated' after spending two years in a re-education centre because their attitudes had 'improved', while the other two were considered "problematic" and accused of disturbing public order by assembling with others, he told RFA.

He added that Chinese authorities sentenced Omar to five years in prison and Samat to 12 years in jail.