Jailed Uyghur journalist and blogger Niyaz Kahar, who disappeared into Chinese custody six years ago following ethnic riots in northwestern China’s Xinjiang region, is in failing health in prison where he is serving a 13-year term on political charges, sources said.
Kahar, who ran the popular Uyghur-language website Golden Tarim, was detained on or around July 26, 2009, just three weeks after riots tore across the regional capital Urumqi on July 5, leaving at least 200 dead according to official figures.
Though Kahar’s family at first feared he had been killed in the riots, they later learned he had been taken into custody, and were told a year later he had been handed a 13-year sentence in a closed-court session on charges of promoting Uyghur separation from Beijing’s rule.
Kahar, who is approximately 40, is now in failing health in prison, his mother Mariamkhan told RFA’s Uyghur Service last week.
“When I met my son in prison two weeks ago, I saw how thin and weak he has become,” Mariamkhan said, adding that she had been able to speak to her son for only 15 minutes over a telephone and separated by a glass window.
“The guards were watching us closely, so we could exchange only a few words such as ‘hello,’ ‘how are you?’ and ‘how are you feeling?’”
Though Kahar tried to appear well, and denied that he was sick, “I could feel in my heart that his body is growing weak,” Mariamkhan said.
“He looked like a small, frightened child yearning for his mother’s love and protection,” she said.
“He is losing his courage year by year.”
Kahar is now being held at Shikho (in Chinese, Wusu) prison in northern Xinjiang’s Ili (Yili) Kazakh Autonomous Prefecture, where he works as a tailor, Mariamkhan said.
“Shikho is a big prison with two sections,” she said. “One is the political prisoners’ section, and the other is the section for ordinary prisoners.”
“Because we are the family of a political prisoner, the prison authorities let us see my son only once every four months, but the time we are given is so short, only 15 minutes. Also, we are separated by a window, and can speak only by telephone.”
And though ordinary prisoners are permitted gifts of food, clothing, and money from their families, political prisoners are not allowed to receive such things, she said.
Following Kahar’s sentencing, Kahar’s father—who was already suffering from high blood pressure—collapsed, became paralyzed, and later died, Mariamkhan said.
“Now, when I see my son in prison, he asks me about his father, and to spare him disappointment I tell him that his father is still well,” she said.
“My son has already spent six years in prison,” Mariamkhan said. “Now, I will wait through the next seven years.”
Born in 1975 in Yokuri Akyer village near Kumul (Hami) City, Niyaz Kahar studied literature at Xinjiang University from 1994 to 1999.
He then worked at a local newspaper before going on to establish the Uyghur-language website Golden Tarim, which featured articles on Uyghur history, culture, politics, and social life.
Authorities later closed his website, along with several others, accusing them of publishing politically sensitive news stories aimed at stirring Uyghur public anger against the Chinese government.
Speaking to RFA from the Netherlands, where he lives as a refugee, long-time friend Abdushukur Mirahmed described Kahar as “an excellent scholar” whose website Golden Tarim was “one of the most-welcomed Uyghur-language websites” at the time the two men last met in Urumqi in 2006.
“Later, I heard that the Chinese authorities closed his website and arrested him.”
“I believe that he was one of the victims of July 5 Incident in Urumqi in 2009,” he said.
Uyghurs in Xinjiang say they have long suffered ethnic discrimination, oppressive religious controls, and continued poverty and joblessness, blaming the problems partly on the influx of Han Chinese into the region.
Chinese authorities blame outbreaks of violence in the region on Uyghur “terrorists,” but rights groups and experts say Beijing exaggerates the terrorism threat to take the heat off domestic policies that cause unrest or to justify the authorities use of force against the Uyghur minority.
Reported by Eset Sulaiman for RFA’s Uyghur Service. Translated by Eset Sulaiman. Written in English by Richard Finney.