WASHINGTON—An exiled Uyghur Web editor has called for the release of dozens of his colleagues, who he says were detained by Chinese authorities in the wake of deadly ethnic violence in the Xinjiang regional capital, Urumqi, last July.
Dilmurat Parhat, co-founder of the Uyghur-run Web site Diyarim, closed by the authorities after the clashes, called for more international attention to the plight of dozens of Uyghur online activists now being held in specially set up centers.
“The situation of the Uyghur Web site organizers is very dangerous,” Parhat, who is himself currently in Britain and who has been warned not to return home for fear of arrest, said.
“I strongly request that all the organizations and individuals who support democracy should put great pressure on China and protect those people from being sentenced by a biased Chinese court system.”
He said he knows of four Uyghur full-time Web site managers now being held: his brother Dilshat Parhat, and Nureli, who founded the Uyghur Web site Selkin, their supervisor Muhemmet, and Obulkasim, an employee of the Web site Diyarim.
Three volunteer Web site supervisors—Muztagh, Lukchek, and Yanchukchi—were also detained, along with two women—Heyrinsa and Halnur—who were students at the Xinjiang Art Institute.
No comment was available from authorities in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR), where most Uyghurs, a distinct Turkic minority, live.
New law on Web sites
In addition, a Uyghur university lecturer named Erkin was also detained, he said.
Parhat said his brother Dilshat Parhat was first detained July 24, along with Web site supervisor Obulkasim and seven other employees. They were released Aug. 2 and detained again on Aug. 7.
“That was the second time that he was arrested without being shown any warrant for his arrest. He has not been released since,” he added.
Regional Communist Party leaders in the northwestern Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region blamed some Uyghur-run Web sites for fomenting ethnic strife following the July ethnic rioting, in which at least 197 people died.
The Xinjiang parliament recently passed a law forbidding anyone from using the Internet to support Uyghur aspirations for independent rule.
Uyghur sources said around 100 Web sites were closed down in the crackdown, which followed the violence in the regional capital, Urumqi, which overseas Uyghur groups say was triggered when police fired on a peaceful demonstration of Uyghurs, many of them students.
Ilshat Hassan, U.S.-based spokesman for the World Uyghur Congress, said Chinese authorities appear to be detaining online editors and shutting down Web sites to conceal reports of alleged official brutality.
“They don’t want the people to know why they are arresting [dissidents] and what their fate is, so that they can rule by dividing,” Hassan said.
Prominent Beijing-based Uyghur economist Ilham Tohti has said in the past that his sites have been shut down. He has been detained and interrogated for publicly taking issue with the official line.
Tohti’s blog, Uyghur Online, publishes in Chinese and Uyghur and is widely seen as a moderate, intellectual Web site addressing social issues. Authorities have closed it on several occasions.
Uyghur Online was specifically targeted, along with exiled Uyghur leader Rebiya Kadeer, in a July 5 speech by the governor of Xinjiang, Nur Bekri, as an instigator of the clashes.
Beijing has accused U.S.-based Uyghur businesswoman Rebiya Kadeer of stirring up unrest among Uyghurs back in China, a charge Kadeer has denied.
Parhat said his brother and colleagues were thought to be at a large unofficial detention facility near Urumqi airport set up to house a large number of detainees in the wake of the violence.
“It is unclear which prison they are in now,” he said.
“As I heard it, the place where they are being held is a temporary prison.”
“A friend who works for the police said it was a place to hold the young people who attended the July 5 incident.”
Xinjiang, Uyghurs cut off
He said the authorities have given no official word on any charges that might be brought against the men, nor have their relatives been allowed to visit them.
In a report Oct. 29, the nonprofit press freedom group Reporters Without Borders (RSF) said its survey had found more than 85 percent of Web sites dedicated to the Uyghur community—in Uyghur, Mandarin, and English—were “blocked, censored, or otherwise unreachable” in Xinjiang.
Urumqi residents have frequently reported being cut off from the outside world entirely, as the authorities block media and social networking sites such as Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube.
Uyghurs, a distinct and mostly Muslim ethnic group, have long complained of religious, political, and cultural oppression by Chinese authorities, and tensions have simmered in the Xinjiang region for years.
Original reporting in Uyghur by Mehriban. Uyghur service director: Dolkun Kamberi. Translated from the Uyghur by Chughluk. Written for the Web in English by Luisetta Mudie. Edited by Sarah Jackson-Han.