Young Woman Put on Trial for Extremist Sympathies
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2016-10-13 10:14:46

A college student in China’s eastern Anhui province was put on trial on Tuesday over her alleged interest and illegal involvement in terrorist propaganda and extremist articles, according to a Wednesday report by the Anhui Business Daily.

According to the report, the 22-year-old woman, who has been referred to in media reports only by the pseudonym Xiaojuan, had been in contact with a Turkey-based individual referred to as “Abdullah” through messaging platform QQ since 2013. The man is suspected of sending extremist material in the form of audio files and e-books to Xiaojuan, who is a student at a vocational college in Hefei.

The news report does not specify the religious context of Abdullah’s holy mission. Regulations issued by state news agency Xinhua in November 2015 prohibit usage of the terms “Islamic fundamentalism” and “Islamic fundamentalist” in all media reports. The regulations suggest terms like “religious extremism” instead.

Xiaojuan’s interest in Abdullah’s unspecified religious cause supposedly prompted her to share the material with a school friend, whom she invited into a three-person chat group with Abdullah. The prosecution asserts that the pair of students were invited by Abdullah to leave China and take part in a “holy war,” a plan that only failed to come to fruition due to “reasons pertaining to expenditure and passport applications.”

In December of last year, Xiaojuan and her schoolmate were summoned for questioning by the police. Two audio files and three e-books found on Xiaojuan’s cellphone were deemed by the provincial anti-terrorism team to qualify as either violent material or terrorist propaganda.

The local newspaper reported that Xiaojuan said she was unaware at first of Abdullah’s intentions, but did plead guilty to the charges. The case has yet to come to a verdict.

The trial, held at the Intermediate People’s Court of Hefei Municipality, comes on the back of increased efforts by Chinese authorities to counter religious extremist activity in the country. In April of this year, a 36-year-old man in the eastern city of Jinan was arrested and detained for downloading and watching Islamic State group videos: The man said he had viewed the videos out of curiosity. In May, reports surfaced of a man in China’s northwestern Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region who had died in custody at the end of 2015 after being detained on grounds of watching a prohibited ISIS video on his cellphone.

The state’s concern that Chinese citizens are under significant threat of Islamist radicalization is shared by Qiu Wenping, head of the religion research center at the Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences. “The influence of Pan-Islamism and Saudi Arabia’s [ultraconservative Islamist movement] Wahhabism over China’s inland Muslims is hugely significant,” Qiu told Sixth Tone. He believes the trajectory of terrorism in China is intimately related to the political situation of central Asia, and that “stability in China will be achieved if those countries can stem religious extremism.” 

Leaked material from the Islamic State group in July provided proof that over 100 Chinese nationals had joined the extremist arm in Syria. A report by the Wall Street Journal cited research by U.S.-based think tanks concluding, based on analysis of personal information, that the majority of those who had joined the Islamic State’s ranks came from Xinjiang.

With contributions from Kevin Schoenmakers.

This article has been updated to correct the time of Xiaojuan’s trial. The trial took place on Tuesday, Oct. 11, not Monday as originally reported, and the report by the Anhui Business Daily was published on Wednesday, not Tuesday.

(Header image: Getty Images/VCG)