BEIJING — One of the most senior Uighur officials in the Chinese government is being investigated for corruption, the Communist Party’s anti-graft agency said Friday.
The 57-year-old Bekri is a member of China’s ethnic Uighur minority, a mostly Muslim group concentrated in the country’s west. International human rights groups have been highly critical of China’s treatment of the group.
In addition to leading the energy regulator, Bekri was vice chairman of the National Development and Reform Commission, which is responsible for devising and implementing economic and social development strategies. His position was equivalent to the level of a government minister.
The Central Commission for Discipline Inspection, which has an almost perfect record of convicting officials who are publicly accused of corruption, did not give any details on the accusations against Bekri.
He has not been publicly dismissed from his post, but his name disappeared from the National Energy Administration’s website Friday afternoon.
Bekri’s detention comes amid a crackdown on corruption in general and the energy sector in particular, and also amid a crackdown on Uighurs in the western region of Xinjiang.
Bekri served as mayor of the provincial capital of Urumqi and then was governor of Xinjiang for six years, a period that included clashes in Urumqi between Han Chinese and ethnic Uighur groups that left almost 200 people dead.
He was controversial in the region because he supported the central government’s repression of Muslim “extremists” and advocated Chinese-language education for Turkic-speaking Uighur children. He had also promoted mining in Xinjiang and was a strong advocate of coal.
At the end of 2014, he was appointed to head the National Energy Administration, becoming one of the few Uighurs to hold national office.
But his star began to publicly wane last year when he suddenly lost his seat on the Communist Party’s Central Committee and then was excluded from the National Party Congress, the main forum for the Communist Party’s top officials.
He was arrested Thursday when he arrived at Beijing’s airport, the Hong Kong-based South China Morning Post reported. He had been part of a Chinese delegation that had met with Russian President Vladimir Putin earlier in the week.
There was no indication that the investigation was related to the fact that Bekri is Uighur.
The National Energy Administration has had only four directors, and now two of them have been implicated in corruption cases.
Former director Liu Tienan was investigated for corruption in 2013 and sentenced to life in prison the following year.
When Bekri took over the National Energy Administration at the end of 2014, half of its department chiefs had been taken away for investigation into allegations of corruption, the Chinese business publication Caixin reported.
President Xi Jinping has embarked on a widespread campaign to root out corruption, leading to thousands of officials being removed from their posts.
But Bekri’s arrest also comes amid harsh restrictions on Uighurs, who make up almost half the population in Xinjiang.
They have been subject to increasingly pervasive controls on daily life, heightened religious restrictions and mass surveillance, Human Rights Watch said in a 117-page report released this month. About a million Muslims, overwhelmingly men, are being held in mass detention centers, where they undergo forced political indoctrination and mistreatment, including torture, the report said.
The Chinese government has said these are vocational training centers.