Uyghur university student serving 13-year sentence for using VPN

Computer science major was arrested in 2017 for trying to evade censors and obtain ‘illegal information.’
By RFA Uyghur
Uyghur university student serving 13-year sentence for using VPN A view of Xinjiang University in Urumqi, capital of northwestern China's Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, in an undated photo.
Xinjiang University

A Uyghur university student named Mehmut Memtimin who was arrested more than five years ago by police in northwestern China’s Xinjiang region is serving a 13-year prison sentence, a policeman involved in his apprehension said. 

His crime: Using a virtual private network, or VPN, to bypass official internet sensors and view “illegal information,” according to a police officer linked to Xinjiang University who asked to be identified only as Abduweli. 

“The reason for his arrest was that he posed a threat to national security by using a VPN,” Abdulweli said. “He was sentenced to 13 years and is serving time in Tumshuq Prison,” in Kashgar prefecture’s Maralbeshi county.

Memtimin was a computer science student at Xinjiang University’s Institute of Information and Technology in Urumqi.

His arrest came at a time when authorities were jailing Uyghurs and other Turkic minorities in “re-education” camps and prisons for alleged extremist behavior, such as previous trips or contacts abroad or religious activities. Many were jailed in Tumshuq Prison.

Many Chinese citizens use VPNs to evade censors, but rarely are they arrested and punished for doing so.

Memtimin was forcibly detained by police from his hometown of Qaghiliq, about 1,500 kilometers (932 miles) from Urumqi, according to information compiled by independent researcher Gene Bunin. 

Bunin, who spent nearly five years in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region researching the Uyghur language, runs the Xinjiang Victims Database, a platform that collects records of Uyghurs and other Turkic minority peoples detained there.

His information, based on data from the Xinjiang Police Files leaked and publicly disclosed in 2022, indicates that Memtimin was arrested at noon on Dec. 7, 2017.

Translated by RFA Uyghur. Edited by Roseanne Gerin and Malcolm Foster.

Editors' note: RFA Uyghur Service journalists operate in challenging circumstances, so in reporting this story and to ensure their safety, we chose not to reveal their affiliation with RFA.


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