A U.S.-educated Uyghur linguist and two others who wanted to set up schools to promote the ethnic minority language in China’s troubled Xinjiang region have been sentenced to up to three years on what their supporters see as trumped-up charges of “illegal fundraising.”
In a case that has received international attention, the Tengritagh (in Chinese, Tianshan) district court in Xinjiang’s capital Urumqi imposed an 18-month jail term and a 80,000 yuan (U.S. $13,000) fine on Abduweli Ayup after detaining him for about a year, a relative of Ayup’s told RFA’s Uyghur Service.
Ayup, who earned a Master’s Degree in Linguistics at the University of Kansas, returned to his homeland in 2011 to pursue his dream of opening Uyghur language schools, but was arrested and thrown in jail with two of his business partners—Dilyar Obul and Muhemmet Sidik—on Aug. 20, 2013.
Their firm was called Mother Tongue International Co.
Sidik, the company’s director, was sentenced to two years and three months imprisonment and ordered to pay a fine of 130,000 yuan (U.S. $21,130) while Obul, a board member like Ayup, got two years imprisonment and was fined 100,000 yuan (U.S. $16,260), the relative said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
Family notified of court ruling
The court arrived at its decision on Aug. 21 after holding a one-day trial on July 11, he said, adding that Ayup’s family had been notified about the ruling.
“The ruling states that they committed a crime of abusing public money,” he said, citing a copy of the court’s decision. “There are no other charges except that.”
He said that Ayup and Obul had accepted the verdict and do not wish to lodge an appeal. Sidik’s decision however is not immediately known.
The jail sentences would be effective from the date of their detention, according to the court ruling, he said.
“If the court ruling is truly enforced, Ayup may be released in six months,” he said.
The trio are being held in Liudawan prison in Urumqi.
“It has not been stated when the ruling would be enforced and Ayup’s parents have not been allowed to meet with him,” the relative said.
An active promoter of the Uyghur language in Xinjiang, where Beijing is strongly pushing the use of Mandarin Chinese in schools, Ayup established a Uyghur-language kindergarten in Kashgar, China’s westernmost city, together with his business associates in the summer of 2012.
Authorities said they closed down the school in March 2013 because it was operating “without complete documentation.” They refused the trio’s permission to open another school in Urumqi.
Relatives of Ayup were not told of his whereabouts until recently, even though they had pleaded to meet with him after learning that he was in poor health in jail.
A group of supporters in the United States lately launched a petition on MoveOn.org to publicize his case, receiving more than 500 backers from across the globe. They also set up a Facebook page “Justice for Uyghur Linguist Abduweli Ayup” to highlight his plight.
The petition called on the ruling Chinese Communist Party to protect the rights of ethnic minorities, among other requests.
The mostly Muslim Uyghurs say they have long suffered ethnic discrimination, oppressive religious controls, and continued poverty and joblessness.
The New York-based Committee of Concerned Scientists also wrote a note of concern over Ayup’s plight to Chinese President Xi Jinping.
Anwar Memet, a childhood friend and middle school classmate who now lives in the U.S., told RFA in an earlier report that Ayup’s supervisor at the University of Kansas had offered him a three-year scholarship if he agreed to pursue his doctorate in linguistics following the completion of his graduate degree.
“[B]ut he chose to return to his homeland to realize his dream ... of opening Uyghur-language kindergartens and schools.”
He said that he and other friends had tried to persuade Ayup—whose wife and daughter were also with him in the U.S. at the time—to stay to pursue his studies, but he could not be swayed.
Reported by Eset Sulaiman for RFA’s Uyghur Service. Translated by Mamatjan Juma and Eset Sulaiman. Written in English by Parameswaran Ponnudurai.