China Jails Uyghur Journalist For "Separatism"

2004-07-30
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WASHINGTON, July 28, 2004 — ; A court in the Muslim Uyghur region of Xinjiang in northwest China has jailed a journalist who reported on political tensions there for separatist activities and leaking state secrets overseas, RFA's Uyghur service reports.

Abdulghani Memetemin, 40, was handed a nine-year jail term by the Intermediate People's Court in the Xinjiang city of Kashgar, according to a copy of the court judgement sent to RFA.

"Abdulghani Memetemin is accused of threatening the integrity of the state by separatist means, violating state secrets and sending them outside the country," the Kashgar court judgement said.

The judgement listed 18 counts of the charges against the former reporter for the Germany-based East Turkistan Information Center (ETIC), who was forced to work secretly and had warned ETIC that he was likely to be caught.

They included such news reports as the detention of a well-known Muslim cleric, discrimination against Uyghurs for adhering to Islamic religious practices by their employers, and an undercover trip to Central Asian countries by 20 Chinese State Security officers disguised as businessmen, it said.

The judgement also singled out Abdulghani Memetemin's translations into Chinese of key official speeches and news about oppression of Uyghurs, an issue of possibly even greater sensitivity for Beijing than the reporting of the pro-independence viewpoint overseas.

While the court found Abdulghani Memetemin guilty of violating secret state information, it said he could not be said to have threatened the integrity of the state. The judgement cited his helpful attitude and acceptance of the charges against him. Memetemin represented himself during the proceedings. His argument — ; that he had no separatist intentions &mdsah was dismissed, according to the judgment.

It said the accused's assertion: "I admitted all my crimes and ask the court to consider this" was taken into consideration. But ETIC said he had been tortured at the hands of Chinese security officials.

"To claim that [Abdulghani Memetemin] disclosed the nation's secrets to people overseas and attempted to "split" the country is total slander," the East Turkistan Information Center (ETIC) said in a recent e-mail to Amnesty International forwarded to RFA's Uyghur service. "He never attended any political activities."

"According to our information, since he was arrested, he was inhumanly tortured by the Chinese government and his family members were banned from visiting him," ETIC said, calling for Abdulghani Memetemin's release.

The judgement concluded: "The crimes of the accused Abdulghani Memetemin are grave and the damage to the state secrecy is great and requires therefore a heavy punishment." Memetemin was sentenced to nine years in prison and "deprivation of political rights" for three years. The term of punishment ends in July 2011.

Human rights groups and Western governments routinely criticize China for its heavy-handed treatment of the Uyghur population in Xinjiang.

Beijing has backed the U.S.-led war on terror, and called for international support for its campaign against Uyghur separatists, whom it has branded terrorists.

China says Uyghurs seeking an independent Islamic state have killed 162 people and injured 440 others.

Uyghurs constitute a distinct, Turkic-speaking, Muslim minority in northwestern China and Central Asia. They declared a short-lived East Turkestan Republic in Xinjiang in the late 1940s, but have remained under Beijing's control since 1949.

According to a Chinese Government white paper, in 1998 Xinjiang comprised 8 million Uyghurs, 2.5 million other ethnic minorities, and 6.4 million Han Chinese-up from 300,000 Han in 1949. Most Uyghurs are poor farmers, and at least 25 percent are illiterate.