Uyghur Charged With Spying

Sweden charges an ethnic Uyghur, a Swedish national, with spying for China.
2009-06-24
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Babur Mehsut shown in a photo dated May 7, 2007
Babur Mehsut shown in a photo dated May 7, 2007
RFA/Yalkun

LONDON—Authorities in Sweden have charged an ethnic Uyghur with spying for China and have reportedly expelled a Chinese diplomat from Stockholm, Uyghur and Chinese exile sources said.

"The court has allowed to me disclose the name of the suspect. I want to let the Uyghur community know that the suspect is Babur Mehsut," Swedish Uyghur Association president Mahinur Hasanova said.

Swedish national and Stockholm resident Babur Mehsut, 61, was detained by Swedish Security Police (Säpo) on June 4 on espionage charges.

An initial hearing to establish formal charges at the Stockholm district court was postponed for two weeks until July 2, "due to the complex nature of the case,” Mahinur said.

Born in the northwestern Chinese city of Lanzhou to a Uyghur father and an ethnic minority Hui Muslim mother, Babur later moved to Hotan in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR), now China’s northwesternmost province.

He entered Sweden as a political refugee in the late 1990s and became a Swedish citizen in 2002.

The chief prosecutor in the case, Tomas Lindstrand, told local media Babur was suspected on reasonable grounds of unlawful espionage from January 2008-June 2009, with activities both in Sweden and overseas.

Sweden is home to a thriving community of Turkic-speaking Uyghurs, a distinct, Turkic-speaking, Muslim minority in what is now northwestern China and Central Asia.

Spokesman for the Munich-based World Uyghur Congress Dilshat Rashit, who shared a hotel room with Babur at the Congress in Washington in May this year, said he was shocked on hearing the news.

"Babur seemed very honest, very hospitable, and had a very good relationship with everybody. But we don’t know his background," Rashit said.

"We could be sure only that he grew up in China. He can’t speak Uyghur properly," he said, adding that Babur had offered to volunteer for the Congress, saying he now had plenty of spare time in his retirement.

Rashit said Babur was not a core member of local Uyghur groups, and that it wasn't the Congress that alerted the Swedish police to his alleged activities.

He said that China prefers to employ Uyghurs to spy on other Uyghurs because Han Chinese with a strong understanding of Uyghur language and culture are rare.

No comment from China

Meanwhile, a Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman neither confirmed nor denied local media reports that Stockholm had expelled one of its diplomats.

"China abides at all times by the [1963] Vienna Convention on Consular Relations," the spokesman told a regular news briefing Tuesday. "However, I am not familiar with the details of the case."

Phone calls to the Chinese Embassy in Stockholm went unanswered during office hours Tuesday.

According to Shi Guozan, the head of the local Chinese business association in Stockholm, only one Chinese diplomat has been expelled by Sweden since the armed crackdown on pro-democracy protests in Tiananmen Square in 1989.

"There was an education consul in the local embassy who was expelled by Sweden because there were a lot of Chinese students, and after the pro-democracy movement in China they staged a demonstration, and the embassy shot video of the event," Shi said.

"In Sweden, demonstrations are free and unregulated, and video shots of demonstrations aren't admissible as any kind of evidence, or to carry out criticisms or more serious sanctions. The Swedish authorities carried out an investigation and found the videotape to be in breach of local laws, so the diplomat was expelled," he added.

Muslim minority

Uyghurs declared a short-lived East Turkestan Republic in Xinjiang in the late 1930s and 40s but have been ruled by Beijing, which many bitterly oppose, since 1949.

Beijing blames Uyghur separatists for sporadic bombings and other violence in the Xinjiang region. But international rights groups have accused Beijing of using the U.S. “war on terror” as a pretext to crack down on nonviolent supporters of Uyghur independence.

Original reporting in Uyghur by Shohret Hoshur and in Cantonese by Ho Shan. Uyghur service director: Dolkun Kamberi. Cantonese service director: Shiny Li. Translated from the Uyghur by Elshat Hessan and from the Chinese by Luisetta Mudie. Edited by Sarah Jackson-Han.

CH. 1: MANDARIN | CANTONESE

CH. 2: VIETNAMESE | BURMESE | KOREAN

CH. 3: KHMER | LAO | UYGHUR

CH. 4: TIBETAN

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