HONG KONG—A court in China’s northwestern Xinjiang region has sentenced a man to 10 years in jail for sharing information about a local protest with friends abroad, who then passed it on to Radio Free Asia (RFA), according to his mother.
The People’s Intermediate Court in Turpan sentenced Ekberjan Jamal, 24 and a member of the region's mostly Muslim Uyghur minority, to 10 years in prison for alleged separatism and leaking state secrets, his mother said in an interview.
The charges stemmed from Jamal's use of his mobile phone to transmit to friends in the Netherlands
the sounds of a November 2007 protest by local shopkeepers in a remote area of the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, she said.
Maybe it was to make friends and fulfill his wish to study abroad that he told his friends what was happening here."
Ibadethan Jamal, mother
Jamal's friends recorded the sounds and sent them to RFA's Uyghur service, which used them in a broadcast. Jamal later posted RFA's online version of the broadcast on his personal Web page, his mother, Ibadethan Jamal, said.
Xinjiang is home to some 8 million Uyghurs, whose bitter opposition to Beijing's rule has at times erupted in violence. Chinese authorities have recently pledged to escalate a campaign against what they regard as dangerous ethnic separatism, which officials have countered in part by prosecuting a broad range of activities as "state security" crimes.
Jamal's sentence was handed down on Feb. 28, 2008, Ibadethan Jamal said, adding that she was now speaking publicly about her son's sentence in hope of securing his release. He is detained at Urumqi’s No. 4 Prison.
An official at the Turpan People’s Intermediate Court, contacted by telephone, declined to comment on the case.
“The prosecutor said he sent information to RFA …They accused him of intent to break up the country. How could my little boy split this country?” Jamal's mother said.
“Our family is not anti-government. We don't have any complaints about the government. It’s just that some people and some local authorities treated my son’s case unjustly,” she said.
Call for appeal
“We want higher authorities to reconsider my son’s case and give him a fair trial—or at least reduce his sentence.”
“My husband has died, my son has only two little sisters. I don’t know how or to whom I should make my appeal. I hope maybe that through the media this case will reach them,” she said.
Ibadethan Jamal said that her son hasn’t been tortured in prison and that she is permitted to visit him monthly.
She said Jamal used his cell phone on two occasions to transmit the sounds of a protest by local Uyghur shopkeepers in Turpan, 180 kms (110 miles) east of the Xinjiang regional capital, Urumqi.
The shopkeepers protested on Nov. 1, 17, and 19, 2007, according to witnesses.
They were demonstrating against local authorities, who they said had failed to deliver on a promise to restore their businesses and compensate them for lost income after a fire on Oct. 3, 2007, at the Turpan Grand Bazaar.
The fire killed one person and destroyed about 1 million yuan (U.S. $146,000) worth of merchandise, residents say.
The sounds Ekberjan Jamal shared by cell phone were of police sirens, voices, and his own voice explaining what he was witnessing. RFA’s Uyghur service received and used the sound on Nov. 26, 2007.
On Dec. 25, authorities arrested Jamal and shut down his Web site. He was tried for allegedly sending information abroad on 21 different occasions, his mother said.
Wanted to study abroad
“My boy made an effort to work very hard, and he often went to evening classes to learn English. He practiced his English with tourists, and his main goal was to study abroad,” she said.
“Maybe it was to make friends and fulfill his wish to study abroad that he told his friends what was happening here, what he had seen.”
Many Uyghurs, who twice enjoyed short-lived independence as the state of East Turkestan during the 1930s and 40s, oppose Beijing’s rule in Xinjiang.
Beijing blames Uyghur separatists for sporadic bombings and other violence in the Xinjiang region. But diplomats and foreign experts are skeptical.
International rights groups have accused Beijing of using the U.S.-led “war on terror” to crack down on nonviolent supporters of Uyghur independence.
Original reporting by Shoret Hoshur for RFA’s Uyghur service. Uyghur service director: Dolkun Kamberi. Translated by Dolkun Kamberi. Written and produced in English by Sarah Jackson-Han.