Jun 03, 2021

UNPO Condemns Life Sentence Imposed on Hushtar Isa

The Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organization (UNPO) condemns the life sentence given to Hushtar Isa, the brother of Dolkun Isa, the head of the World Uyghur Congress. Hushtar Isa's life sentence is the latest in a life marked by repression imposed on the Isa family stemming from Dolkun Isa's participation in the pro-democracy protests in Xingjang Province in 1988 and his subsequent campaigning for the rights of the Uyghur people. 

Below is an article published by Radio Free Asia, providing more details on this situation. 

Brother of World Uyghur Congress President Sentenced to Life in Prison in China’s Xinjiang

Hushtar Isa had a reputation as a promising Uyghur intellectual and social organizer, says a family friend.

The brother of World Uyghur Congress president Dolkun Isa has been jailed for life by authorities in China’s Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR), a police officer from the region told RFA.

Hushtar Isa, based in Aksu (in Chinese, Akesu), was reportedly detained in 1998 and sentenced to two years in prison.

At the beginning in 2017 of the XUAR mass internment campaign, under which authorities are believed to have held up to 1.8 million Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities in a network of detention camps, he was re-detained while working at a driving school because he was a former prisoner, said the officer, who declined to give his name.

“He was sentenced to life,” the officer told RFA on May 25.

Another police officer contacted by RFA said that Hushtar Isa had been working at the Yong’an Driving School, and that he was currently in prison. Five others from the school had been detained with him, two of whom had already been sentenced to prison terms, he said. The officer said he could not provide information about the identities of the other three.

The news came the same day that Chinese authorities issued a statement denying the claim that Dolkun Isa’s mother, Ayhan Memet, had died in a “re-education” camp, and claiming that their family was living peacefully.

At a news conference in April, Chinese authorities forced an Aksu-based older sister of Dolkun Isa to speak in a video, denying that their mother had passed away while in a camp.

But the authorities did not provide any information about Dolkun Isa’s older brother, Yalkun, or his younger brother, Hushtar, about whom he had received no information during the past four years.

A person claiming to be familiar with the situation in Aksu said last week that Yalkun and Hushtar had been given long prison sentences, and that the authorities had not disclosed the information in their recent news conference.

RFA has not been able to confirm details about the alleged sentencing of Yalkun.

A staff member in the appeals department of the Aksu Prefectural Procuratorate said he could not give RFA any information about the brothers.

Alleged ‘crimes’

After Hushtar Isa graduated from Xi’an Jiaotong Gonglu University in 1996, he had difficulty finding a job because of the “political problems” of Dolkun, according to the source with knowledge of the situation. While searching for a job, his alleged “crimes” came to light, and he was sentenced to two years in prison in 1998.

Uyghur activist Dolkun Isa was a student leader of pro-democracy demonstrations at Xinjiang University in Ürümqi, capital of the autonomous region, in 1988. Persecution by the Chinese government prompted him to flee China in 1994 and seek asylum in Germany where he helped establish the World Uyghur Youth Congress and served as its executive chairman and president. He also played a role in the establishment of the World Uyghur Congress (WUC) in April 2004.

Habibulla Izchi, a close friend of the family who now lives in Switzerland, said that after Hushtar was released from prison, he went into business with a friend and opened a restaurant called Ardabil.

But Hushtar was forced to give up his share of the business after discovering that police were constantly coming in and out of the restaurant to monitor it, he said.

Hushtar then worked as an instructor at the Xinyun or Jilong driving schools, an employee from the Hong Qi driving school in Aksu told RFA, but she added that the man disappeared from public life several  years ago.                                        

Although he has never met Hushtar in person, Habibulla Izchi said Hushtar likely received a heavy sentence because had a reputation as a promising Uyghur intellectual and social organizer, making him a thorn in the side of Chinese authorities.

“Whether in Xi’an, Urumqi, or Aksu, wherever he went, he was essentially an active guy who was concerned with the future of our homeland and people,” he said. “Some of the things he did were very similar to the work of Dolkun Isa.”

Authorities detained Hushtar while he was at the driving school and took him away as a former convict at the beginning of the internment campaign in 2017, said the source with knowledge of the situation. He spent two years in a “re-education” facility in Aksu.

While in the camp, Hushtar was accused of more than 10 crimes and sentenced to a long prison term for “mistakes” he had committed during the course of his life, said a Uyghur teacher from Aksu who now lives overseas and learned about the situation from his former students. Authorities denounced as “counter-revolutionary” his participation in social activities as a university student and organization of sporting events for Uyghur students.

Authorities also said his social interactions with friends and classmates of his brother Dolkun Isa, as well as his meetings with Uyghur intellectuals were “preparations for terrorism,” and they deemed his conversations with well-known religious leaders at social events in Aksu as “signs of religious extremism,” said the overseas Uyghur teacher who declined to be named.

After denying the camps’ existence initially, China in 2019 changed tack and began describing the camps in the region as residential training centers that provide vocational training for Uyghurs, discourage radicalization, and help protect the country from terrorism.

But reporting by RFA and other media outlets indicate that those in the camps are detained against their will and subjected to political indoctrination, routinely face rough treatment at the hands of their overseers and endure poor diets and unhygienic conditions in the often-overcrowded facilities.

The U.S. State Department — as well as parliaments in Canada, the Netherlands, the UK, and Lithuania — have described China’s actions in the region as “genocide,” while the New York-based group Human Rights Watch says they constitute crimes against humanity. The Italian parliament voted unanimously last week to condemn Chinese atrocities against Uyghurs and other Turkic peoples.