Authorities in northwest China’s Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR) have given a two-year suspended death sentence to a prominent Uyghur intellectual for exhibiting “separatist tendencies,” according to an official source.
Halmurat Ghopur, president of the Xinjiang Food and Drug Administration’s Department of Inspection and Supervision in the regional capital Urumqi, was taken into custody in November 2017 and is being held in an unknown location for “acts against the state,” sources in exile told RFA’s Uyghur Service earlier this year.
RFA recently received information that Ghopur was featured, along with four other high-ranking Uyghur intellectuals who were sentenced to punishments of either death or life in prison, in an officially produced “political study” film, which was made required viewing for all government cadres in the XUAR.
Ghopur, who is also the former president of Xinjiang Medical University Hospital in Urumqi, is said in the film to have been given a suspended death sentence for plotting to “create a Muslim Caliphate” in the region by 2030, sources said.
Some of the intellectuals allegedly profiled in the film were affiliated with the Xinjiang Association of Literature and Art, and RFA contacted the director of the group’s political department who confirmed Ghopur’s punishment.
“[He was sentenced for] attempting to split the country and using his position as a lecturer to carry out anti-government propaganda,” the director said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
“We received [an official] document … [which said] Halmurat Ghopur grew up in a religious family and has received religious education since a very young age,” he added.
“He planned to create an independent country according to his own wishes and become its leader … During the past 33 years he had this hidden intention.”
While investigating the arrests of several professors from Kashgar University, in the seat of Kashgar (in Chinese, Kashi) prefecture, RFA contacted the police station in the city’s Bulaqsu township.
An officer there said that his department had recently viewed the film and while none of the professors were among those profiled, it had stated that Ghopur “was given … a two-year suspended death penalty.”
In January, credible sources told RFA that when state security police came to arrest Ghopur last year, he demanded to know why he was being taken away.
An officer told him at the time that he had exhibited “nationalistic tendencies,” before reading some of the conversations on the messaging app WeChat that they had monitored, confiscating his computer, and leading him away, the sources said.
Despite a successful career in medicine that included official acknowledgement for developing a treatment for respiratory illnesses which combined Western and traditional Uyghur medicine, observers suggested that differences Ghopur had with Xinjiang Medical University secretary Li Bing may have led authorities to target him.
According to an article entitled “We Must Be Vigilant Against Hidden Two-Faced Officials,” published by China University of Political Science and Law professor Wu Danhong last year, Li had actively fought the “three evils” of terrorism, separatism, and religious extremism in the XUAR, but Ghopur was critical of his approach.
In one case, the article noted, Li—who is ethnic Han Chinese—had suggested that students be prohibited from wearing Islamic clothing on the university campus, but Ghopur argued that the clothing is part of Uyghur traditional religious and cultural dress.
Li was found guilty of accepting a 3 million yuan (U.S. $465,000) bribe and sentenced by Xinjiang’s Intermediate Court in March last year to more than 10 years in jail for corruption, and Wu alleged in his article that Ghopur had framed him.
According to the article, Ghopur was a “two-faced official” who had failed to follow Communist Party guidelines by recruiting students who were “not fit to fill their positions” at the university hospital, in a bid to “fulfil his murky intentions.”
“Two-faced” is a term applied by the government to Uyghur cadres who pay lip service to Communist Party rule in the XUAR, but secretly chafe against state policies repressing members of their ethnic group.
Western governments have increasingly drawn attention to re-education camps in the XUAR in recent months as media reports detail the stories of Uyghurs who have been detained in the facilities.
U.S. State Department spokesperson Heather Nauert recently said the U.S. government was "deeply troubled" by the crackdown on Uyghurs in Xinjiang, adding that “credible reports indicate that individuals sent by Chinese authorities to detention centers since April 2017 number at least in the hundreds of thousands, and possibly millions.”
The official warned that “indiscriminate and disproportionate controls on ethnic minorities’ expressions of their cultural and religious identities have the potential to incite radicalization and recruitment to violence.”
A group of U.S. lawmakers, in a recent letter, asked President Donald Trump’s administration to “swiftly act” to sanction Chinese government officials and entities complicit in or directing the “ongoing human rights crisis” in Xinjiang.
The position of China's central government authorities has evolved from denying that large numbers of Uyghurs have been incarcerated in camps to disputing that the facilities are political re-education camps. Beijing now describes the camps as educational centers.
Adrian Zenz, a lecturer in social research methods at the Germany-based European School of Culture and Theology, has said some 1.1 million people are or have been detained in the re-education camps, which equates to 10 to11 percent of the adult Muslim population of the region.
Uyghur educators are kept under strict monitoring in the XUAR and can face stiff punishment for not adhering to Beijing’s narrative about how China’s central government’s policies are benefitting the region and its ethnic minorities.
RFA recently learned that at least 56 Uyghur lecturers and researchers from Xinjiang University in Urumqi are currently held in re-education camps, while at least four professors were sacked from Kashgar University for being “two-faced.”
In September 2014, a court sentenced outspoken economics professor Ilham Tohti, who regularly highlighted the religious and cultural persecution of the mostly Muslim Uyghur ethnic minority in the XUAR, to a life term behind bars on charges of promoting separatism.
The court decision cited Tohti’s criticism of Beijing’s ethnic policies, his interviews with overseas media outlets, and his work founding and running the Chinese-language website Uighurbiz.net, which was shut down by Chinese authorities in 2014.
But rights groups say that instead of urging the separation of the XUAR—the Uyghur people’s historic homeland—from China, Tohti had called only for China to implement its own regional autonomy laws and had consistently promoted peace and dialogue between the Han Chinese and Uyghur communities, and have demanded his release.
Reported by Shohret Hoshur for RFA’s Uyghur Service. Translated by RFA’s Uyghur Service. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.