East Turkestan: Activists Pressure to Obtain Information on Detained Journalist
On 25 August 2015, the Uyghur Human Rights Project (UHRP) released a statement calling on China to release information about Uyghur activist, Ms Mehbube Ablesh. Detained since 2008, information about her health conditions remain unknown. According to former colleagues, Ms Ablesh was arrested for writing articles in which she criticized the Chinese Government and, more specifically China’s Mandarin-focused education policy, security issues and the handling of donations following the Sichuan earthquake. In 2014 alone, the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) documented that among the 44 journalists imprisoned in China 17 are Uyghurs.
Below is a statement published by The Uyghur American Association (UAA)
The Uyghur Human Rights Project (UHRP) calls on China to release information on imprisoned Uyghur journalist Mehbube Ablesh and to drastically improve freedom of the press in East Turkestan. Since her arrest in August 2008, the welfare of Mehbube Ablesh has been largely unknown despite the probable expiration of a three-year sentence. Mehbube’s case is among a number of documented instances of harsh Chinese government restrictions placed on the right of Uyghur journalists to accurately report on events and conditions in East Turkestan.
“Since Mehbube Ablesh was arrested in August 2008 we have learned little about her case other than details uncovered by human rights organizations. Mehbube did nothing other than highlight problems with Chinese government policies from the perspective of the Uyghur people,” said UHRP director Alim Seytoff in a statement from Washington, DC.
Mr. Seytoff added: “The undisclosed judicial process Mehbube received from the Chinese authorities violated her right to an open trial and illustrates the extent to which officials attempt to keep the situation in East Turkestan from the eyes of the public in China and overseas. Other Uyghur journalists have faced long prison sentences for merely keeping people informed. When a country locks up its reporters and writers, it is a clear indicator that it is not interested in governing with accountability and transparency.”
Mehbube Ablesh (born 1979) was fired from her position with Xinjiang People’s Radio in Urumchi and subsequently arrested in August 2008. Although charges against her at the time of her arrest were unknown, one of Mehbube’s colleagues told Radio Free Asia she was detained for articles she had written that were critical of the government. Sources cited by the Congressional-Executive Commission on China (CECC) described how Mehbube opposed China’s Mandarin-focused education policy and had published articles questioning the level of security measures surrounding the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing and government handling of donations from Uyghurs following the May 2008 Sichuan earthquake.
Partial disclosure over Ablesh’s case was not obtained until Dui Hua (a San Francisco based human rights organization) reported in 2010 that she had most likely been sentenced to three years for “inciting splittism.” The date of Mehbube’s sentencing is not known. According to CECC’s Political Prisoner Database, she was serving her sentence in the Xinjiang Women’s Prison (Xinjiang No. 2 Prison) in Urumchi.
In an article dated October 18, 2011, the Congressional-Executive Commission on China (CECC) reported Ablesh’s sentence had probably expired. However, it is unknown whether she has been released, as extensions of sentences are documented in Uyghur political prisoner cases. The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), Reporters Without Borders and International PEN have all raised the unjust imprisonment of Mehbube Ablesh.
In reports from the leading press freedom and freedom of expression monitors, China’s record on censorship and harassment of journalists has been unequivocally condemned. China ranks 176th worst for press freedom out of 180 states in Reporters Without Borders’ 2015 World Press Freedom Index. Freedom House’s annual survey of political rights and civil liberties across the globe published in 2015 placed China in the “worst of the worst” category.
In its 2014 prison census, CPJ documented 44 journalists imprisoned in China (of them 17 are Uyghur) out of a global total of 221. The second highest number is in Eritrea with 23 individuals. As in the case of Mehbube Ablesh, judicial procedures Uyghur journalists faced did not meet international standards.
One jailed Uyghur reporter named by CPJ is Gheyret Niyaz. Prior to his arrest and detention in October 2009, Gheyret worked as a senior reporter for the Xinjiang Economic Daily and as an administrator for Uighurbiz, a Mandarin language website shut down by the government for questioning Chinese policy toward Uyghurs. Gheyret was sentenced to 15 years imprisonment for endangering state security on July 23, 2010 following a one-day trial in Urumchi, which only one family member was allowed to attend. In presenting their evidence, prosecutors cited essays and interviews he gave to foreign media in the wake of July 2009 unrest in Urumchi.
CPJ’s census also includes Professor Ilham Tohti, who worked at Beijing’s Minzu University (formerly Central Nationalities University) and often questioned the efficacy of Chinese government policies targeting Uyghurs citing worsening economic, social and cultural conditions through the Uighurbiz website.
Professor Tohti was found guilty on charges of separatism and sentenced to life imprisonment on September 23, 2014 after a two-day trial that began on September 17. Procedural issues ahead of his trial denied Ilham Tohti a fair hearing. His lawyers’ requests to see prosecution evidence ahead of the trial were rejected. A November 21, 2014 appeal hearing was held behind closed doors at the Urumchi Number 1 Detention Center in violation of normal procedure. The appeal was turned down. Other Uyghur journalists cited by CPJ in its census include: Ekberjan Jamal, Memetjan Abdulla and Akbar Imin.
The Uyghur American Association (UAA)
Photo Courtesy: Santo Chino @ Flickr