East Turkestan: China Replaces "Biased" Uyghur Judicial Personnel
Below is an article published by Uyghur American Association:
The Uyghur American Association (UAA) calls for investigation into a report that Uyghur prosecutors initially selected to preside over the cases related to July 5, 2009 unrest in the regional capital of Urumchi in East Turkestan were removed from their duties because of alleged ethnic bias. According to the report, published October 13 in the Hong Kong-based Apple Daily newspaper and citing an unnamed source on the mainland, government authorities accused Uyghur judicial personnel of being biased in favor of Uyghur defendants when questioning them during preliminary hearings. In light of a demonstrated lack of due process and transparency in trials of July 5 suspects that have taken place to date, UAA expresses deep concern about this report, and calls upon Chinese government officials to fully disclose the process by which prosecutors were selected and retained.
UAA stresses that if the information obtained by the Apple Daily is accurate, Chinese authorities should be held to account for why Uyghur prosecutors were replaced in these defendants’ cases. Evidence should be provided to the public to prove that these prosecutors displayed bias toward Uyghur suspects, and to allay fears that judicial personnel were removed from their duties for political reasons.
“Uyghurs in East Turkestan are frequently seen as untrustworthy outsiders, and are given no real voice in legal and judicial affairs,” said Uyghur democracy leader Rebiya Kadeer. “Chinese officials made much of the fact that they had brought in Uyghur judicial personnel to give a fair trial to Uyghur defendants charged with crimes related to July 5 unrest. However, it has been well-documented that Chinese officials have imposed restrictions on lawyers defending those accused of July 5 crimes, and have prevented other lawyers from taking on their cases. Sadly, it would not be surprising if Uyghur judicial personnel were replaced because they had run afoul of political directives issued regarding July 5 cases.”
Chinese state media reported in late August that more than 170 Uyghur and 20 Han lawyers had been assigned to unrest suspects, and that their trials would be carried out “in their native languages”. However, as emphasized by the group Human Rights Watch in its recent report on post-July 5 detentions, both prosecutors and judges in East Turkestan had received instructions from Party authorities regarding the handling of cases related to July 5. In addition, political criteria were used to select judicial personnel assigned to handle the trials. As noted by Human Rights Watch and the Congressional-Executive Commission on China (CECC), lawyers in both Beijing and East Turkestan were warned against independently taking on cases related to the July 5 unrest. According to official statistics cited by CECC, only 17 percent, or 380, of the lawyers in East Turkestan in 2007 were members of “ethnic minorities”, despite the fact that approximately 60 percent of the population of East Turkestan is comprised of non-Han ethnic groups.
According to Apple Daily’s source, authorities “discovered” that during the preliminary hearings for July 5 cases, Uyghur judicial personnel cautioned Uyghur defendants to downplay severe crimes and not admit to lesser crimes, and when they interpreted for the defendants, they deliberately covered up or misinterpreted what was said, resulting in some suspects who had committed “serious crimes” being released. The source claimed that Xinjiang Party Secretary Wang Lequan was angry that Uyghur judicial personnel, who had been recruited from southern parts of East Turkestan, were “covering up” for Uyghur defendants, and ordered their replacement, selecting judicial personnel with Uyghur language capabilities from among the Kazakh ethnic group and other minority ethnic groups to take over their duties in the preliminary hearings.
Testimony of witnesses collected by Human Rights Watch indicates that the mass arrests and detentions of Uyghurs carried out after July 5 violated both Chinese and international law, as security forces did not provide reasons for arresting people, and failed to inform family members of the locations where their loved ones were being detained. Out of the 43 representative cases that Human Rights Watch was able to document through witness testimony, only one individual had been released. Against this backdrop, the release of suspects who had committed “serious crimes” appears unlikely.
Remarks of Chinese officials prior to the first trials of defendants in July 5 cases displayed a pre-trial bias toward issuing harsh sentences. For instance, Supreme People’s Court president Wang Shengjun called on courts of all levels to be united in their thinking with central authorities’ judgments and policies, as well as for “striking hard in accordance with law” against defendants.
In October, 21 men were sentenced in Urumchi in connection with the July 5 unrest, after undergoing highly politicized trials that did not adhere to standards of either domestic or international law. UAA condemns all acts of violence that were committed by civilians and security forces on July 5 and subsequent days and weeks, but objects strongly to the lack of due process in the prosecution of alleged crimes related to the unrest in Urumchi.
On October 12, the Intermediate People’s Court of Urumchi sentenced six Uyghur defendants to death on charges of murder and other crimes they were alleged to have committed during the July 5 unrest. A seventh man, Tayirjan Ablimit, was sentenced to life in prison on charges of murder and robbery. On October 14, another 14 men (12 Uyghurs and two Han Chinese men) were tried and sentenced in Urumchi on charges of murder and other crimes related to the unrest. Six of these (five Uyghurs and one Han Chinese man) were sentenced to death, three of them with a two-year reprieve, while others were sentenced to lengthy prison terms. None of the trials were publicly announced beforehand, and all were conducted in less than one day.
According to an Yili (Ghulja) News Net report posted on October 23, 2009, 19 men were convicted of “endangering state security” and sentenced following an eight-hour trial on October 21 in the Yili (Ghulja) Kazakh Prefecture Branch of the XUAR Supreme Court. The court heard that the men, believed to be Uyghurs, had planned to “protest illegally” in Ghulja after hearing about protests taking place in Urumchi. UAA urges extreme skepticism with regard to the charges of which the men were found guilty, in the absence of an open and fair trial, and in light of the documented persecution of Uyghurs who express peaceful dissent.