A court in China's troubled northwestern Xinjiang region has sentenced three Uyghur teenage students to up to six years in jail over a brawl that led to the death of a Han Chinese student, according to family members who termed the verdict as harsh, politically motivated, and discriminatory.
Arman Kurban, 16, received a six-year jail term while Kaiser Toxti and Yarmemet Tursun, both 15, were imprisoned for five years each by the court in Ghulja city (in Chinese, Yining) after a closed-door hearing that ended on Jan. 31.
The trio, from the Dadamtu Middle school of Ghulja city, were convicted of "intentionally causing the death" of schoolmate He Xiaoping after a fight among Uyghur and Han Chinese students on May 30, 2012, some family members who were allowed to attend the hearing told RFA's Uyghur Service last week.
The court decided that in the fight that occurred outside of school, the Uyghur students had pelted stones at He while he was fleeing from them across a stream and that they had caused his drowning.
Twenty others were injured in the fight between the Uyghur students, who were armed with bricks and stones, and their Han Chinese schoolmates and friends, armed with sticks and knives, the family members said.
The clash was an extension of a quarrel in school over some students jumping the queue to get drinking water, they said.
The families of the Uyghur students said they suspect Chinese political and government intervention in the case.
They said they were astonished by the verdict as the lawyers for the accused had put up a credible defense and that the judges too had appeared to have been convinced by their arguments.
“I heard that the Ghulja city’s Politics and Law Commission was involved in the case and that is why the verdict was issued so late and the defense testimony was thrown out," Arman Kurban’s father Kurbanjan Semet said.
He said that the families of the three Uyghur students had only seen their children twice since they were detained in May last year and that requests to meet with them in prison had been rejected.
"We don’t know how they are faring and what they have been eating, thinking about, or feeling inside them," said Kurbanjan Semet, whose son had suffered a cut on his head during the clash.
“We feel this case has been clouded by ethnic discrimination," said Yarmemet Tursun’s father Tursunmemet Tohtaji.
"It is so unfortunate that such a fate has befallen my son, who has always emerged as the top student, despite our financial difficulties," he said.
He wondered why none of the Han Chinese students were detained or charged or even disciplined in school over the incident.
He claimed that while Uyghur students were being interrogated at the police station, the Han students were playing and having fun at the station's compound.
Tohti Rehmitulla, the father of Kaiser Tohti, said that his dream of educating his son had been shattered.
“I had no chance of going to school at all and I was planning to spend everything I had on educating my son," he said.
"In the village, everyone knows that I send my son to school and fetch him back every day so that he does not get implicated in such an incident. It is so unfortunate that this happened on the day I had to stay back to attend my farm."
The school's director, Eniver Ghopur, said it could not act on the case because "it is handled by the institutions of law."
"So, we have no right to do anything on this case.”
Uyghur experts said they were not totally surprised by the court decision, adding that judges in cases involving such ethnic rivalry were bound to back the Han Chinese on the orders of the government.
"Such decisions are influenced or made by government-linked bodies, like the Political and Law Commission," said Behtiyar Omer, a former lawyer who had worked in Xinjiang's capital Urumqi and who is now a refugee in Norway.
Ilshat Hasan, a former lecturer at Shihezi University in Xinjiang, charged that Uyghurs in schools with Han Chinese were being victimized as part of what he called Beijing's discrimination process.
“The Chinese government should be solely responsible for the incident because it is merging Uyghur and Han Chinese schools in the region and, in effect, encouraging Han Chinese to attack Uyghurs by letting them off the hook, as seen from this latest incident," he said.
Nurmemet Musabay, World Uyghur Congress Secretary-General, said the authorities should review such school mergers, which the government says are aimed at encouraging bilingual education.
"The review has to be done before more tragic incidents occur."
Reported by Shohret Hoshur for RFA's Uyghur Service. Translated by Shohret Hoshur. Written in English by Parameswaran Ponnudurai.