East Turkestan: Lengthy Prison Terms
Below is an article published by: UHRP
On February 26, Abdukadir Mahsum was sentenced to 15 years in prison for organizing peaceful demonstrations in Hotan in late March of 2008. As reported by the Uyghur Human Rights Project (UHRP), the State Department and other organizations, hundreds of Uyghurs, primarily women, peacefully demonstrated at the time against religious repression and the death in police custody of a well-known Uyghur philanthropist. Official Chinese media alleged that the demonstrators were affiliated with extremist religious groups. Hundreds of the demonstrators were arrested by police forces.
On March 6, the Hotan Municipal Court sentenced Mamatali Ahat to eight years in prison after he raised the flag of East Turkestan at the statue of Mao Zedong shaking hands with a Uyghur farmer in Hotan’s Unity Square. The court accused Ahat of having stolen guns and explosives with the intent of blowing up the statue. The statue of Mao and Uyghur farmer Kurban Tulum has been held up by the Chinese government as symbolic of what it portrays as the beneficial policies enjoyed by Uyghurs under Chinese Communist Party rule. However, Uyghurs widely view the statue as a symbol of the way in which the oppression they suffer in their daily lives differs from official propaganda.
“These two cases show the world how Chinese government authorities deal with peaceful Uyghur dissent- through lengthy imprisonment and accusations of extremism or violent intent,” said Uyghur democracy leader Rebiya Kadeer. “Even an action as simple as raising a flag is punished by years in a Chinese prison, something which I know from experience is extremely brutal and dehumanizing.”
Chinese officials, led by Xinjiang Party Secretary Wang Lequan, have spearheaded a drive to blur the distinction between peaceful dissent and terrorism in East Turkestan. Under CCP rule, Uyghurs who peacefully demonstrate or express discontent with Chinese government policies are frequently persecuted, and often branded as terrorists or extremists. The year 2008 saw an enormous rise in state security arrests in East Turkestan during a period in which a massive crackdown was carried out on the Uyghur population and religious restrictions were intensified. In December, two Uyghur college students in Urumchi were detained for distributing leaflets on the Xinjiang University campus urging students to join in a peaceful demonstration.
UHRP is concerned that Abdukadir Mahsum and Mamatali Ahat may be subjected to torture and other forms of ill-treatment during their imprisonment. UHRP urges the Chinese government to release Mahsum and Ahat immediately, and to cease the imprisonment and persecution of Uyghurs for engaging in acts of peaceful expression. UHRP also calls upon the international community to demand the release of the two men and an end to China’s harsh repression of peaceful dissent among Uyghurs.