Gheyret Niyaz in a screen grab from Uyghurbiz.net on March 25, 2010
HONG KONG—Supporters of a jailed ethnic Uyghur journalist have organized an online campaign for his release, nearly six months after his detention for talking to foreign media about the deadly July 2009 ethnic riots in far-northwestern China.
Gheyret Niyaz, 50, a former deputy director of the official Xinjiang Legal Daily
, was employed at the official Xinjiang Economic Daily
as a journalist at the time of his detention on Oct. 4, 2009. His family received a warrant for his arrest four days later, relatives said.
He is now being held at the Heavenly Mountain District [Tianshan Chu] detention center in Urumqi, capital of the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR), according to friends.
Police said in detaining Gheyret Niyaz that “he did too many interviews with foreign media about the July 5 Urumqi riots,” one source said.
Uyghur activists in exile have expressed shock at his arrest because he was widely regarded as pro-government, even warning XUAR officials in July that ethnic riots could be imminent, although the exact content of his warning is unknown.
After the riots, Gheyret Niyaz gave interviews to several foreign publications in which criticized the unequal distribution of wealth in Xinjiang and accused authorities of heavy-handedness in their campaign to fight Uyghur “separatism.”
“Who has really endangered China’s state security?” one Internet statement asked.
“The Chinese Constitution guarantees freedom of speech for its citizens; Gheyret has spoken for the interests of the people and the State ….”
“Gheyret was following the law and tried to carry out his duty to the state; at the same time, he has not forgotten his people, the Uyghurs … Is that a crime?”‘So naïve’
Hussein Hasan, a Uyghur activist in Australia, called Gheyret Niyaz “so naïve about China’s politics.”
“We’ve said many time that it’s impossible for Uyghur intellectuals to be pro-government and pro-Uyghur at the same time in China,” he said. “The Chinese government has declared war on our people.”
Ilham Tohti, an outspoken economics professor at Beijing’s Central University for Nationalities, defended Gheyret Niyaz.
“Gheyret has followed [one of the few paths] available to his people. I don’t believe he would have any regrets,” Ilham Tohti said.
Statements calling for his release appeared both on blogs and on Uyghurbiz.net, a multilingual site managed by Ilham Tohti.
“Gheyret Niyaz probably has been tortured or confessed; he needs special attention from the international community, because he has faced a double attack from [the central government] state and the regional authorities,” one statement said.
Millions of Uyghurs—a distinct, Turkic minority who are predominantly Muslim—populate Central Asia and the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR) of northwestern China.
Ethnic tensions between Uyghurs and majority Han Chinese settlers have simmered for years, and erupted in July 2009 in rioting that left some 200 people dead, according to the Chinese government’s tally.
Uyghurs say they have long suffered ethnic discrimination, oppressive religious controls, and continued poverty and joblessness despite China's ambitious plans to develop its vast northwestern frontier.
Chinese authorities blame Uyghur separatists for a series of deadly attacks in recent years and accuse one group in particular of maintaining links to the al-Qaeda terrorist network.Reported and translated by Shoret Hoshur for RFA’s Uyghur service. Service director: Dolkun Kamberi. Written for the Web by Sarah Jackson-Han.