Jul 30, 2010

East Turkestan: Uyghur American Association Strongly Condemns The Sentencing Of Three Uyghur Webmasters

The Uyghur American Association (UAA) strongly condemns the recent sentencing of three Uyghur webmasters, who were convicted on charges of “endangering state security.”


Below is a press release  published by the Uyghur American Association:


The Uyghur American Association (UAA) strongly condemns the recent sentencing of three Uyghur webmasters, who were convicted on charges of “endangering state security”. According to the brother of one of the men, their trials are believed to have taken place on July 23 or July 24, around the same time as Uyghur webmaster Gheyret Niyaz was sentenced to 15 years in prison for “endangering state security” for speaking to foreign journalists.

“The Chinese government is suffocating Uyghur voices,” said Uyghur democracy leader Rebiya Kadeer. “Chinese authorities are committing an egregious violation of human rights and the freedom of expression by imprisoning these three men, who have done nothing more than work for websites and voice their opinions. Chinese legal guarantees regarding the freedom of speech and freedom of expression clearly mean nothing. Uyghurs in East Turkestan can only live in fear, when they are jailed for years merely for speaking out.”

Dilmurat Perhat, who lives in England, told UAA that his brother Dilshat Perhat, the 28-year-old webmaster and owner of the website Diyarim, was sentenced to five years in prison last week following a closed trial in a court in Urumchi, the regional capital of East Turkestan (also known as Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region). Dilmurat, who received the information from sources within East Turkestan, also told UAA that Nureli, the webmaster of the website Salkin, and Nijat Azat, the webmaster of the website Shabnam, were tried in closed trials on or around the same day and sentenced to three and ten years respectively.

Dilmurat, who was also a webmaster for Diyarim, said that Dilshat had repeatedly deleted postings that appeared on the message board of the website that advertised a peaceful demonstration planned for July 5, 2009 in Urumchi, and that Dilshat had called Chinese police multiple times to tell them about the postings. Dilshat reportedly told his brother that the police told him not to worry, as they knew about the plans for the demonstration that were being posted.

“We didn’t do anything against the Chinese government on the Diyarim website,” said Dilmurat. “There were tens of thousands of people accessing the website every day.

Dilmurat decided to speak out about Dilshat’s case after learning of his sentencing recently. He told UAA that he had refrained from speaking out about his brother’s case for a period of time because of threats Chinese authorities had made to his family members in East Turkestan that his brother’s situation would worsen if they did not stay silent.

“I changed my mind, after learning about my brother’s sentencing, and the death of my father,” said Dilmurat. He learned last week that his father had passed away recently, which his family had not been able to inform him about immediately.

It is unclear whether or not Dilshat, Nureli or Nijat Azat will appeal their sentences, although the right of appeal is guaranteed under Chinese law. Dilshat was reportedly provided with a government-appointed defense lawyer, but it is unclear whether or not the other two men were assigned lawyers. However, Chinese courts have demonstrated a record of affirming sentences given to Uyghur political prisoners, and statements made by Chinese officials have placed an emphasis on political considerations in the trial process rather than on the facts of a given case.

It is also unclear where the three men are currently being detained or why the three men were sentenced to prison terms of varied lengths. No official confirmation has been obtained about the trials or sentences of the three men.

The trials of July 5 suspects have been marred by a demonstrated lack of due process and transparency. Chinese state media reported in late August 2009 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, both prosecutors and judges in East Turkestan had received instructions from Communist 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, lawyers in both Beijing and East Turkestan were warned against independently taking on cases related to the July 5 unrest.

When contacted by UAA, the staff member who answered the phone at the press office of the Chinese Embassy in Washington, D.C. indicated that she did not have information about the three cases.

Dilmurat stated that his brother was initially detained on August 7. It is unclear when Salkin webmaster Nureli or Shabnam webmaster Nijat Azat were detained, but both were detained in the wake of July 5, 2009. The Diyarim, Salkin and Shabnam websites, which had all published material in both Uyghur and Chinese, were all shut down following the unrest that took place in Urumchi on July 5, 2009. The three websites, which had published both original and reposted content, together with social and cultural material, had served as a reliable source of information regarding local news and events, both for Uyghurs living in East Turkestan and those living abroad.

Chinese officials accused these three websites, together with the website Uighurbiz and other Uyghur-run websites, of inciting protests and violence on July 5, 2009 because in the days leading up to July 5, they had announced plans for the July 5 peaceful demonstration that took place at People’s Square. In a televised speech on July 6, 2009, regional chairman Nur Bekri specifically accused Uighurbiz of having been a catalyst for violence on July 5, which he said the website had helped to instigate by “spreading rumors.”

As reported previously by UAA, Uyghur journalist and blogger Gheyret Niyaz, who had worked as an administrator for Uighurbiz and as a senior reporter for the Xinjiang Economic Daily, was sentenced to 15 years in prison on July 23 for endangering state security by speaking to foreign journalists. Niyaz reportedly informed government officials about plans for July 5 demonstrations that had been posted on Uighurbiz and other websites prior to July 5, and later criticized the government’s handling of the unrest.

Uighurbiz, founded by Uyghur economist and blogger Ilham Tohti, was created as a multi-lingual forum for news and dialogue between Uyghurs, Han and other ethnicities on ethnic issues and other topics. The website has been shut down a number of times by Chinese government authorities, and is currently hosted on a server in the United States.

According to reports, the following Uyghur website staff and bloggers remain in detention after being detained subsequent to the July 5, 2009 unrest: Memet Turghun Abdulla, a photographer who published an article online about attacks against Uyghurs that took place in Shaoguan, Guangdong Province, on June 26, 2009; Obulkasim, an employee of Diyarim; and website supervisor Muhemmet. No reports have been made public regarding any charges filed against these individuals, and it is unclear where they are being held.