A Uyghur religious leader jailed in northwestern China’s Xinjiang region has entered the third month of a hunger strike after he was slapped with a fifth prison term, prompting concerns over his health from family members and rights groups.
Abdukiram Abduveli, 59, was first sentenced in 1993 to 12 years in prison for spreading “counterrevolutionary propaganda,” apparently for advocating the spread of Islam, and has now served nearly twice his original term, New York-based Amnesty International said.
Accused by authorities of having “refused prison education” and of continuing to pray in jail, Abduveli was handed an additional three-year term on his scheduled release in November 2002, with further extensions imposed in 2005, 2008, and 2011, the rights group said.
“It is against Chinese law and international law for Chinese authorities to extend his prison term,” Amnesty International China researcher William Nee told RFA’s Mandarin Service on Thursday, adding that Abduveli has been on hunger strike for more than two months and is in failing health.
“His family told us that he has been on a hunger strike in prison for more than 60 days. He is very weak. He basically is unable to walk, and cannot speak for more than two minutes at a time.”
“The Chinese government should release him immediately and provide him with medical care,” Nee said.
Dilxat Raxit, spokesman for the Munich-based World Uyghur Congress (WUC), echoed Amnesty International’s concerns, calling Abduveli’s physical condition “truly worrisome.”
“His sentencing and the extensions of his prison term did not reflect due process of law,” Raxit told RFA. “This proves the degree to which Uyghur political prisoners are being persecuted.”
Before he was detained in 1990, Abduveli had traveled widely within the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region preaching the Qu’ran and advocating the spread of Islam.
“The Chinese authorities appear to be singling out Abdukiram Abduveli for his refusal to stop practicing his religion. The authorities must immediately explain on what grounds they are continuing to imprison him,” said Anu Kultalahti, another China researcher at Amnesty.
“This seems to be another extreme case of persecution against ethnic Uyghurs at the hands of the Chinese authorities.”
Amnesty said that Abduveli’s family had received a written court verdict explaining the additional prison sentences only once.
Xinjiang’s mostly Muslim Uyghurs have long chafed at what they describe as ethnic discrimination, oppressive religious controls, and continued poverty and joblessness, blaming their hardships partly on a massive influx of Han Chinese into their traditional homeland.
Harsh measures imposed by authorities include restrictions on traditional religious dress and appearance, including the wearing of beards by men and veils by women, sources say.
In mid-April, Chinese authorities raided a mosque in Toksun county near eastern Xinjiang’s Turpan city, removing the mosque’s imam from his position and confiscating audio CDs banned by the ruling Chinese Communist Party, Raxit said this week
The crackdown then spread to a nearby village, where at least 100 people were briefly detained, he said.
Some of the men held were forcibly shaved, while some women had had their veils removed, Raxit said.
Reported by Qiao Long for RFA’s Mandarin Service and by Shohret Hoshur for the Uyghur Service. Translated by Jennifer Chou. Written in English by Richard Finney.