A court in China has sentenced three ethnic minority Uyghurs to life in jail for alleged separatist offenses, according to a Uyghur woman who attended the trial.
One of those handed a life term was Gulmire Imin, 32, who held a local government post and worked for the Uyghur-language Salkin website, which called for a demonstration on July 5, 2009, the witness said in an interview.
"We had expected her to become one of leaders of the Uyghur region in the future," the witness said.
"I’m so sad about her fate."
The Urumqi Intermediate People’s Court tried six Uyghurs on April 1, subsequently sentencing Gulmire Imin and two men to life terms for allegedly planning and organizing an illegal demonstration, separatism, and leaking state secrets, according to the witness.
Three others defendants were handed prison sentences of varying lengths, the witness said. Officials declined to comment.
Ethnic Uyghurs took to the streets en masse in July 2009 in an initially peaceful demonstration to protest a violent attack weeks earlier against Uyghur migrant workers in far-off Guangdong province, which officials allegedly failed to quell promptly. Those clashes in Urumqi, capital of the Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region (XUAR), left some 200 people dead, by official count.
Chinese authorities detained hundreds of people in the aftermath and charged an unknown number, including Gulmire Imin, with fomenting the violence.
“Gulmire Imin’s position in government once again proves how common the demands behind the July 5 demonstration were in Uyghur society,” Dilxat Raxit of the Munich-based exile World Uyghur Congress said.
"We have learned that more than 100 forum moderators who worked with Salkin were arrested over July 5. We can estimate that if we add in the moderators of the other two major Uyghur websites, Diyarim and Shebnem, at least 300 Web moderators [must be] detained and jailed in the Uyghur region now."
"We call again on the international community to conduct an independent investigation," he said.
Court officials declined to comment.
“I don’t want to become their roommate for answering your question," one court official in Urumqi said, alluding to stringent rules regarding the sharing of information from the sensitive Xinjiang region.
A staff member at the Tianshan Dongmen [in Uyghur, Tengritagh district, Sherqi Qowuq subdistrict] office, where Gulmire Imin had worked, confirmed that she had been sentenced to life in prison and no longer worked there but refused to give information about her or others.
According to the witness, Gulmire Imin was born in Aksu city in 1978 and grew up there.
She graduated from the Chinese-Uyghur translation department of Xinjiang University in 2000 and began to work for the subdistrict committee in September 2000.
She had been praised and awarded many times by city and regional officials.
“She has outstanding organizing talents, and she was in charge of a subdistrict with a population of 40,000,” the witness said.
“But she was very outspoken, and she could not keep silent about the injustices she witnessed."
A China Central Television documentary, titled The July 5 Riot from Start to Finish and aired in October, claims the July 5 unrest in Urumqi was organized by separatist forces cooperating inside and outside the country.
It says Gulmire Imin was one of six organizers who attended three meetings planning the demonstration and that she leaked state secrets.
It names five other website moderators—Ahmet Tursun, Muhter, Memtjan Abdulla, Tursun Mehmnet, and Gulnisa Memet—as organizers, with Ahmet Tursun as the lead organizer.
Another witness to the trial, a refugee in the Netherlands, said he was the cellmate of one of the Salkin website’s moderators while he was held in a detention center in Urumqi in August 2009.
His cellmate told him at least 100 Salkin moderators were arrested from around the region in connection with the July 5 unrest.
In July, three webmasters, all members of the Uyghur ethnic minority, were sentenced to jail for publishing content deemed politically sensitive by the Chinese government, according to a brother of one of the men.
The defendants were Dilshat Perhat, webmaster and owner of Diyarim; Nureli, webmaster for Salkin; and Nijat Azat, webmaster for Shabnam.
Dilmurat Perhat said his brother Dilshat Perhat received five years in prison, while Nureli and Nijat Azat received three years and 10 years, respectively, for “endangering state security.”
Millions of Uyghurs—a distinct, Turkic minority who are predominantly Muslim—populate Central Asia and the XUAR.
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.
Original reporting and English translation by Shohret Hoshur for RFA's Uyghur service. Written in English by Rachel Vandenbrink.