Turkey-Based Uyghur Denies Contact With Condemned Official, ‘Terrorist’ Group

2021-04-16
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Turkey-Based Uyghur Denies Contact With Condemned Official, ‘Terrorist’ Group Former Uyghur official Shirzat Bawudun, now under sentence of death, admits to acts of separatism and terrorism in a 'confession' broadcast on April 9, 2021 by China Global TV Network.
Screen grab from video

A Uyghur living in exile from his China-ruled homeland has denied Chinese reports of contacts with a former Uyghur official recently sentenced to death for separatism, and says he has nothing to do with a shadowy organization described as “terrorist” by Beijing.

The accusations were made in a televised and apparently coerced confession by Shirzat Bawudun, a former high-ranking government official in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR), broadcast on April 9 by China’s China Global TV Network.

Speaking in a recent interview with RFA, Tahir Abbas—a resident of Turkey since 2017—said that Bawudun’s statements alleging Abbas had helped him to contact and offer support to the East Turkistan Islamic Movement (ETIM) “are entirely false.”

“We have absolutely no connection,” Abbas said, adding that he had watched a video of Bawudun’s confession only because he had heard his own name was mentioned in it.

Statements on April 6 by the High Court of the XUAR that Abbas and Bawudun had met in Mecca in 2006 with a Muslim cleric based in Hotan (in Chinese, Hetian) prefecture’s Qaraqash (Moyu Xian) county named Ablajan Bekir were also untrue, Abbas told RFA.

“I don’t know Ablajan Damollam,” Abbas said, referring to the cleric by a term denoting a respected religious elder. “Because I’m from Qaraqash, I heard that he was apparently the imam of a mosque, but I never met him face to face,” he said.

“If that man were to see me, he wouldn’t know who I was. Nor would I know him if I saw him,” he said.

“I didn’t even go to Mecca in 2006,” Abbas said.

On April 6, authorities in the XUAR announced that Bawudun, a former director in the XUAR High Court and deputy secretary of the XUAR Political and Legal Committee, had been given a two-year suspended death sentence following his conviction on charges of “separatism” and “terrorism.”

Convicted with Bawudun, and also sentenced to death, was former director of education for the XUAR Sattar Sawut.

Though the High Court announced the verdicts on April 6, they released no additional information about when and where the trials took place, how they proceeded, and when the verdicts were actually decided.

Other prominent Uyghurs have been given death sentences since 2017, when authorities in the region launched a campaign of mass incarceration that has seen up to 1.8 million Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities held in a vast network of internment camps, but this marked the first occasion on which high-ranking government officials had been sentenced to death.

The sentences, which came as the U.S. government and several Western parliaments have designated rights abuses in the XUAR has part of a state-backed policy of genocide, have led observers to further question the severity of the situation in the region, where the legal system has long been used as a tool of oppression by the state.

'Splitting the country'

According to the limited information shared by the court, Bawudun was accused of “long-term planning to split the country,” “participating in the East Turkistan Islamic Movement (ETIM), and betraying the interests of the people and the country,” and “providing illegal intelligence to people outside the borders [of China].”

Bawudun had been promised a high-ranking government post in a future independent Uyghur state by ETIM leadership because of the work he had done for them, the High Court also charged.

In its ruling, the High Court said that Shirzat Bawudun had provided ETIM with 1.2 million yuan in cash, along with a set of houses. However, that money may have been linked to donations for the annual hajj, or pilgrimage to Mecca, that around 100 Muslims in Qaraqash had entrusted to Ablajan Bekir in his role as secretary of their mosque, according to persons familiar with the case.

Bawudun had taken part in the same pilgrimage but may not have reported the money to Chinese authorities, possibly leading its use after his arrest as “criminal evidence” that he had provided the funds to ETIM.

ETIM, which was formerly on the U.S. State Department’s list of terrorist organizations, was removed late last year because there was “no credible evidence” that the group continued to exist, the U.S. said.

Teng Biao, a prominent Chinese human rights lawyer living in the U.S., told RFA that Shirzat Bawudun’s televised confession in which he named Abbas and Bekir as contacts may have been coerced, adding, “In the process of handling these cases, China uses a variety of methods, including torture and various kinds of psychological pressure.”

“Is a person really able to function under such tremendous pressure?” he asked.

Reported by Jilil Kashgary for RFA’s Uyghur Service. Translated by the Uyghur Service. Written in English by Richard Finney.

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