STOCKLHOLM—A Swedish court has sentenced an ethnic Uyghur refugee to 16 months in prison for spying on fellow Uyghur refugees and passing information to China, according to court documents.
Babur Maihesuti, 62 and a naturalized Swede, was convicted of passing on information from January 2008-June 2009 about the health, travel, and political views of other Uyghurs to a journalist and diplomat who was in fact a Chinese intelligence officer, the Stockholm District Court said.
Babur Maihesuti was found guilty of ''aggravated illegal espionage activity'' and sentenced March 8 to 16 months in jail.
The court ruled the espionage was especially serious since Babur Maihesuti had infiltrated the World Uyghur Congress and the information passed on ''could cause significant damage to Uyghurs in and outside China.”
There was also a danger, the court said, that Beijing could use the network in the future for other kinds of espionage.
“'The crime is especially egregious due to the fact that the espionage served a large power that does not fully respect human rights,” the court said.
Jail term criticized
Dilxat Raxit, spokesman for the World Uyghur Congress, called the sentence insufficient and said Babur Maihesuti had claimed that the World Uyghur Congress had asked him to “conduct secret negotiations with China.”
“One year and four months in jail is too short,” Dilxat Raxit said.
“But this is a warning to the Chinese government for their illegal spying on the Uyghur diaspora … and to some Uyghurs who illegally collect information about Uyghur activists to help the Chinese government.”
Babur Maihesuti was born 1948 in Lanzhou and grew up in Tianjin. His father Mehsut was a Uyghur businessman from Hotan, and his mother Amina, a Chinese Hui Muslim, was a housewife. They had nine children.
The family moved to Tianjin in the 1950s, where he attended school.
But Mehsut worried that his children had lost their cultural identity, so the family moved back to Hotan, in what is now the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR) of China, in the late 1960s, sources who know the family said.
Babur Maihesuti first worked as a government translator and then became Hotan’s mayor in the 1990s.
He later worked as the director of a state-owned trading company in Kashgar, which allowed him to travel to Kazakstan, Uzbekistan, and Taiwan.
‘A serious crime’
Thomas Lindstrand, the Swedish prosecutor, said in an interview that Babur Maihesuti “didn’t plead guilty, but he was sentenced for the crime he was prosecuted for … intelligence activities.”
“If you consider how much you can possibly sentence a person concerning this crime, it’s a fairly long imprisonment. It’s fairly tough considering the circumstances,” Lindstrand said.
“It’s very difficult to investigate a crime like this. The legal demands to get a conviction are very, very high. Obviously the court has found that it has been proven beyond reasonable doubt that he is guilty, and he has received a sentence. The court also found that it was a … serious kind of unlawful intelligence obtaining. It was a serious crime, a gross crime.”
The data Babur Maihesuti collected was “information about the World Uyghur Congress and what people have said and so on. And information about telephone numbers and addresses, asylum [status] … personal information.”
Uyghurs, a distinct and mostly Muslim ethnic group indigenous to Xinjiang, have long complained of religious, political, and cultural oppression under Chinese rule, and tensions have simmered there for years.
Uyghur exiles fear surveillance once they leave China, especially if they have left family behind, and they say their fears have worsened since deadly ethnic riots last July—which prompted a major security crackdown.
Xinjiang has been plagued in recent years by bombings, attacks, and riots that Chinese authorities blame on Uyghur separatists.
Original reporting by Jilil for RFA’s Uyghur service and by Hailan for RFA’s Cantonese service. Uyghur service director: Dolkun Kamberi. Cantonese service director: Shiny Li. Written in English by Sarah Jackson-Han.