Uyghur Men Sentenced

Court documents offer a rare glimpse of Chinese legal proceedings against 12 men sentenced for alleged separatism.
2009-06-05
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Police check the identity cards of Uyghurs in the city of Kashgar, Aug. 8, 2008.
Police check the identity cards of Uyghurs in the city of Kashgar, Aug. 8, 2008.
AFP

HONG KONG—A court in China has sentenced 12 men from the mostly Muslim Uyghur ethnic group, detained in a crackdown before the 2008 Beijing Olympics, to jail terms ranging from three years to life for alleged separatist crimes, court documents show.

Ili Intermediate Court in the northwestern Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region (XUAR) convicted all 12 men in November 2008, months after they were detained in a so-called “Strike Hard” campaign against ethnic separatism before the August 2008 Olympics, according to a knowledgeable source who asked not to be identified.

The court handed down sentences to the men, all in their 20s and 30s, on March 24, 2009, the source and court documents indicated. Whether they would appeal or had appealed their sentences wasn’t clear.

Experts said that while all were convicted of “splitting the country,” they are likely to have drawn such disparate sentences, ranging from three years to life, based on whether the court perceived them as instigators, organizers, or followers in pursuing separatist aims.

Defendants accused of separatism typically face great difficulty in securing defense lawyers, who regard such cases as all but impossible to win and likely to incur official retaliation, experts say.

We’re not satisfied with this verdict...and we are all so surprised."

Seyitakhun, father of defendant

Closed trial

Seyitakhun, whose son Merdan Seyitakhun was the only defendant to draw a life sentence, said only one person from each defendant’s family was allowed to attend the trial.

He also disputed the charges against them, saying the men—none of whom has more than a middle-school education—were teaching Islam rather than fomenting unrest.

“It was a closed trial. All the parents demanded to be there and then the court allowed one person per family to attend,” he said in an interview.

“The government accused them of teaching religion, engaging in illegal religious activities, of ‘splitting the country ’... We’re not satisfied with this verdict ... and we are all so surprised. They should be punished like this for teaching religion?”

“They weren’t establishing an anti-government organization or using weapons to engage in terrorist acts or blow up buildings—they were teaching morality and religion to youths who had been on the street  and teaching them to do good deeds,” Seyitakhun said.

All 12 defendants were identified in the court document as self-employed Uyghur males detained in Ili prefecture’s Gulja county, Gulja city, and Nelka county in 2008. They were identified in court documents as follows:

1—Merdan Seyitakhun, Uyghur, male, from Tokhyuz township in Gulja county, with a middle-school education; born Nov. 23, 1973. Arrested April 14, 2008 by Ili city police and now held at Gulja county prison. Sentenced March 24, 2009 to life in prison for “splitting the country.”

2—Ahmetjan Emet, Uyghur, male, from Arzu village in Gulja county, with an elementary-school education; born April 18, 1985. Arrested April 14, 2008 by Gulja county police and now held at Gulja county prison. Sentenced March 24, 2009 to 15 years’ imprisonment for “splitting the country.”

3—Mewlanjan Ahmet, Uyghur, male, from Hudiyeryuz village in Gulja county, with a middle-school education; born March 10, 1987. Arrested March 29, 2008 by Gulja county police and now held at Ili prefecture prison. Sentenced March 24, 2009 to 10 years’ imprisonment for “splitting the country."

4—Kurbanjan Semet, Uyghur, male, from Nelka county, with a middle-school education; born Aug. 27, 1985. Arrested April 14, 2008 by Gulja county police and now held at Ili prefecture prison. Sentenced March 24, 2009 to 10 years’ imprisonment for “splitting the country.”

5—Dolkun Erkin, Uyghur, male, from Kashgar Street in Gulja city, with a middle-school education; born Feb. 22, 1989. Arrested April 16, 2008 by Gulja county police and now held at Ili prefecture prison. Sentenced March 24, 2009 to 10 years’ imprisonment for “splitting the country.”

6—Omerjan Mehmet, Uyghur, male, from Kashgar Street in Gulja city, with a middle-school education; born Nov. 15, 1986. Arrested May 7, 2008 by Gulja county police and now held at Ili prefecture prison. Sentenced March 24, 2009 to 10 years’ imprisonment for “splitting the country.”

7—Seydehmet Awut, Uyghur, male, from Islamyuz township of Gulja county, with a middle-school education; born July 12, 1971. Arrested April 14, 2008 by Gulja county police and now held at Gulja county prison. Sentenced March 24, 2009 to 10 years’ imprisonment for “splitting the country.”

8—Erkin Emet, Uyghur, male, from Arzu village of Gulja county, with an elementary-school education; born March 3, 1973. Arrested April 14, 2008 by Gulja county police and now held at Gulja county prison. Sentenced March 24, 2009 to 10 years’ imprisonment for “splitting the country.”

9—Abdujilil Abdughupur, Uyghur, male, from Yengiyer village in Gulja city, with a middle-school education; born July 2, 1988. Arrested April 14, 2008 by Gulja county police and now held at Gulja county prison. Sentenced March 24, 2009 to six years’ imprisonment for “splitting the country.”

10—Abdulitip Ablimit, Uyghur, male, from Arzu village in Gulja county, with a middle-school education; born July 1, 1972. Arrested June 5, 2008, by Gulja county police and now held at Gulja county prison. Sentenced March 24, 2009 to six years’ imprisonment for “splitting the country.”

11—Mutelip Rozi, Uyghur, male, from Karadong village of Gulja city, with an elementary-school education; born March 7, 1979. Arrested April 16, 2008 by Gulja county police and now held at Ili prefecture prison. Sentenced March 24, 2009 to six years’ imprisonment for “splitting the country.”

12—Ubulkasim, Uyghur, male, from Tokhuchiyuz township of Gulja county, with a middle-school education; born Aug.10, 1980. Arrested April 23, 2008 by Gulja county police and now held at Ili prefecture prison. Sentenced March 24, 2009 to three years’ imprisonment for “splitting the country.”

Pre-Olympic crackdown

In the run-up to the Beijing Olympics, officials called publicly last year for a harsh crackdown on what the authorities describe as the “three forces” of terrorism, separatism, and extremism.

China has accused Uyghur separatists of fomenting unrest in the region, particularly in the run-up to and during the Olympics last year when a wave of violence hit the vast desert region.

The violence prompted a crackdown in which the government says 1,295 people were detained for state security crimes, along with tighter curbs on the practice of Islam.

XUAR Party Chief Wang Lequan was quoted in China’s official media as saying the fight against these forces was a “life or death struggle,” and he has spoken since of the need to “strike hard” against ethnic separatism.

In March this year, XUAR Governor Nur Bekri warned in a speech to the National People’s Congress, China’s annual session of parliament, of a “more fierce struggle” against separatist unrest in the region.

Activists have reported wide-scale detentions, arrests, new curbs on religious practices, travel restrictions, and stepped-up controls over free expression.

Long-simmering resentment

Many Uyghurs, who twice enjoyed short-lived independence as the state of East Turkestan during the 1930s and 40s, oppose Beijing’s rule in Xinjiang.

Beijing has long blamed Uyghur separatists for sporadic bombings and other violence in the Xinjiang region. But diplomats and foreign experts are skeptical.

International rights groups have accused Beijing of using the U.S.-led “war on terror” as a pretext to crack down on nonviolent supporters of Uyghur independence.

Original reporting by Mihray for RFA's Uyghur service. Translation by RFA Uyghur service director Dolkun Kamberi. Written and produced in English by Sarah Jackson-Han.

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