May 03, 2012

East Turkestan: Continued Violation of Freedom of Expression

The World Uyghur Congress (WUC) has called on the international community to recognise the on-going violation of the right to freedom of expression in East Turkestan, which they condemned in light of World Press Freedom Day on 3 May 2012.

Below is a press release from the World Uyghur Congress:

As we approach the 2012 World Press Freedom Day on 3 May, the World Uyghur Congress (WUC) condemns once again in the strongest possible terms the continuing violation of the right to freedom of expression of the Uyghur people in East Turkestan and draws attention to the international community at the lack of improvement witnessed on the ground during the past year.

China is consistently ranked as amongst the worst states in the world for freedom of expression by reputable independent organisations such as Reporters Without Borders (RSF) and the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ). RSF reported in its 2012 annual report, 'Enemies of the Internet', that China has the largest amount of 'Netizen' prisoners in the world, also suspending communications in East Turkestan when “it loses control of [a] situation.” This is all the more poignant when placed besides the fact that there has been a large increase of imprisonments of Uyghurs on charges related to freedom of expression, the CPJ noted, despite a reduction of imprisonments in China on the whole. This is moreover against the backdrop of heightened crackdown on freedom of speech following the tragic July 2009 events.

Uyghur internet users are particularly subjected to internet censorship, where it is common practice to censor websites, content and words deemed subversive by the Chinese authorities, including: “Rebiya Kadeer”, “World Uyghur Congress”, “Uyghur Human Rights Project”, and “East Turkestan.” Having noted this time last year of the imprisonment of 34 journalists on 1 December 2010 during the aftermath of the July 2009 protests, the WUC denounces the continuing detentions of Uyghur journalists, bloggers and website staff who were sentenced to harsh imprisonment terms in closed and often kangaroo courts merely for voicing their opinions.

The WUC believes that these sentences are acts with the purpose of intimidating other Uyghurs who publish information on human rights violations in East Turkestan into self-censorship. In particular, as WUC President and eminent Uyghur human rights activist Rebiya Kadeer said today, “The sentencing of Mehbube Ablesh and Abdulghani Memetemin to 3 years [August 2008 – for 'separatism charges'] and 9 years [26 July 2002 – for 'leaking state secrets'] imprisonment respectively stands as a profound reminder of the difficulties facing Uyghurs as their whereabouts remain unknown in spite of the fact that they should have already been released.”

There are still other Uyghur media persons who remain in prison for merely asserting their human right to freedom of speech. The WUC would like to draw special attention to the following other individuals currently incarcerated: Nureli; Dilshat Perhat; Tursunjan Hezim; Nijat Azat; Gheyret Niyaz; Gulmire Imin; Memetjan Abdulla; Muhemmet; Obulkasim; Muztagh; Lukchek; Yanchukchi; Heyrinsa; Yalnur; Erkin; Abdulla Jamal; Nurmuhemmet Yasin; and Memtimin Alyar.

Against this backdrop, the WUC once again calls upon the Chinese authorities to release Ablesh and Memetemin without further delay or hindrance who have completed their unjust sentences in 2011 as well as all other Uyghurs imprisoned for asserting their right to freely express their opinions. In this vein, the WUC's previous call to release them has been clearly ignored.

On behalf of all Uyghurs, the WUC and Mrs. Kadeer express their solidarity with Tibetans and Mongolians who also suffer severe restrictions to their freedom of expression, especially in Inner Mongolia during 2011. Through their general practice of imprisoning media staff who oppose state policy, the Chinese authorities are not only violating international law standards, but also Article 35 of their own constitution which guarantees free speech and media freedom.

The WUC believes that the aforementioned cases illustrate what many Uyghurs are facing on a day-to-day basis in their pursuance of their fundamental human rights. Indeed, it is widely believed that many more Uyghur journalists are currently held in Chinese prisons, although exact numbers are difficult to verify due to the secretive nature of the Chinese state. Unquestionably, press freedom is not a freedom Uyghurs in East Turkestan enjoy today.

The WUC calls on the international community to strongly support measures that can help to bring an end to the systematic persecution of Uyghur freedom of expression and defend those trying to uphold those rights. In addition, the WUC urges the Chinese government to immediately and unconditionally release all imprisoned Uyghur journalists and media workers. The World Press Freedom Day should stand as a poignant reminder to the international community of the plight being suffered by not only Uyghurs, but all repressed peoples the world over.