Uyghur filmmaker tells court he was tortured into confession

Ikram Nurmehmet is accused of recruiting young men to join a Uyghur separatist group in Turkey.
By Shohret Hoshur for RFA Uyghur
2023.11.21
Uyghur filmmaker tells court he was tortured into confession Uyghur filmmaker Ikram Nurmehmet in an undated photo.
Public domain

A Uyghur filmmaker on trial for “separatism” and “terrorism” in Xinjiang told the court he was tortured into confessing crimes he didn’t commit, a police officer in the courtroom told Radio Free Asia.

Ikram Nurmehmet, 32, and four Uyghur friends – all of whom studied in Turkey together – are being tried in Urumqi People’s Intermediate Court for alleged connections to Turkey-based organizations seeking independence for East Turkistan, the Uyghurs’ preferred name for the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, the officer, other officials and family members said.

The trial of the five men comes amid the ongoing arrest and jailing by Chinese authorities of Uyghurs who have studied or traveled abroad, and who have been accused of engaging in terrorist or separatist activities.

“All of them were accused of being members of an East Turkistan organization in Turkey,” said the officer, who insisted on not being identified for his own safety. “All of them, except Ikram, admitted their guilt.”

Nurmehmet was accused of “recruiting members, cultivating members, and even raising funds for a East Turkistan organization” when he was in Turkey, the officer said.

Nurmehmet denied charges against him and told the court that he was tortured into confessing, said the officer.

"Because Ikram told the court he was tortured, the judge was unable to conclude the case and the verdict was postponed to January," he said.

According to a report in The Guardian in early November, Nurmehmet told the court he was kept in a dark cell for 20 days during interrogation and was tortured.

Chinese law stipulates that any confessions extracted under torture should be excluded in trial, but in practice, that rule doesn’t function, Maya Wang, an associate director in Human Rights Watch’s Asia division, told The Guardian.

Harsh interrogations

The men were detained on May 29 and subjected to harsh interrogation for three months before the trial, the police officer said. 

After an afternoon break in the trial, one of Nurmehmet’s fellow detainees testified against him, claiming that his friend “urged him to become a member of an East Turkistan organization,” he said.

The testimony came after the man had been taken outside the courtroom during a 15-minute break and possibly tortured, the officer said.

“The other three detainees were sitting with their heads down,” he said.

After studying in Turkey for six years, Nurmehmet moved to Beijing to produce films about Uyghurs’ lives.

During his time in Turkey, Nurmehmet had distanced himself from the Uyghur community there, said Abduweli Ayup, a Norwegian activist and researcher who has investigated the fate of Uyghur students in Xinjiang who returned from Turkey.

“When he was studying at Marmara University, he never even stepped into the areas where Uyghurs live, such as Zeytinburnu,” he said, referring to a working-class neighborhood in Turkey’s capital Istanbul where many Uyghurs have settled.

Nurmehmet applied directly to the university’s art and screenwriting program — not through a Uyghur organization — while he was in Beijing and was accepted. During his studies, he lived off campus in a private dorm, Ayup said.

Furthermore, Nurmehmet tried to avoid any trouble and socialized only with people in his industry, Ayup said. He worked as an assistant for several film companies to cover his tuition and living expenses.  

Translated by RFA Uyghur. Edited by Roseanne Gerin and Malcolm Foster.

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