HONG KONG—Authorities in the troubled northwestern region of Xinjiang have rejected an appeal from an ethnic minority house church leader who was sentenced to 15 years’ imprisonment on charges of revealing state secrets to overseas organizations.
Uyghur pastor Alimujiang Yimiti, 37, was originally sentenced by a court in Kashgar to a 15-year jail term for allegedly “providing state secrets to overseas organizations” on Oct. 27, 2009.
“On March 16, the People’s High Court of the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region upheld the decision of the Kashgar Intermediate Court,” Alimujiang Yimiti’s lawyer Li Baiguang said.
“The decision went as follows: They were of the opinion that the Kashgar District Intermediate Court’s appraisal of the facts was very clear and that its decision was legal, and its reading of the law appropriate.”
“Therefore they upheld the original decision and denied the appeal. They said that the sentencing of Alimujiang to 15 years’ imprisonment along with five years’ deprivation of political rights was correct,” Li said.
Li, who visited Europe in March to highlight what he and other activists regard as a worsening human rights climate in China, said he had been jailed three times while pursuing cases involving abuses of human rights and religious freedom or unjust local government practices.
Li has said previously that while the charges against Alimujiang Yimiti were "instigating separatism and revealing state secrets," his actual offence was talking to visiting Christians from the United States.
A year in pretrial detention
Alimujiang Yimiti was formally detained and charged on Jan. 11, 2008 by Kashgar national security police, before being held at the Kashgar Detention Center for more than a year without a verdict.
He was tried secretly twice in the Kashgar Intermediate Court on May 27, 2008, and again on July 28, 2008. A charge of separatism was dropped at the second trial.
A former Muslim and Christian convert, Alimujiang Yimiti had been acting as pastor to a house church in Xinjiang with his wife Gulinuer and two sons.
“Religion lies at the heart of this case ...” his second lawyer, Li Dunyong, said.
The United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention has ruled the arrest and detention of Alimujiang Yimiti to be arbitrary and in violation of international law, the U.S.-based Christian group China Aid said in a statement on its Web site.
Li Baiguang said the lawyers had pressed for a hearing in open court on appeal.
“As the legal representatives, we applied to the court for an open appeal hearing, saying that there were many unclear areas in this case, and insufficient evidence. But the court called us to inform us that they were refusing our request, saying that the appeal would be heard on paper, instead of in a court hearing.”
“This decision is illegal and void, because it never succeeded in showing how Alimujiang Yimiti supplied state secrets to people overseas.”
He said the case was in breach of Chinese procedural law in a number of areas, especially in the decision to review the appeal behind closed doors.
“We are fairly sure that there are a lot of factors which are totally outside the law that have influenced the investigation of this case. This is very clear from the procedures that were followed within the courts and from the final decision.”
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.
Xinjiang has been plagued in recent years by bombings, attacks, and riots that Chinese authorities blame on Uyghur separatists.
Several dozen death sentences have been handed down in connection with July 5, 2009, clashes in the Xinjiang capital, Urumqi, which followed protests over attacks by ethnic majority Han Chinese on Uyghur workers in southern China’s Guangzhou province.
Nearly 200 people were killed in the ensuing violence, by the government's tally.
Original reporting in Mandarin by Zhang Min. Mandarin service director: Jennifer Chou. Translated and written for the Web in English by Luisetta Mudie. Edited by Sarah Jackson-Han.