Act Now for Uyghur Political Prisoners

Uyghurs in East Turkestan (also known as Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region) are routinely imprisoned for political reasons. The life sentencing of Uyghur academic Ilham Tohti in 2014 demonstrates that Chinese authorities do not hesitate to harshly punish Uyghurs who contradict government policies on ethnic affairs. There are no policy areas safe for Uyghurs to discuss, as is illustrated by the breadth of political, economic, social and cultural issues covered by the political prisoners included in this report.

The human rights organization, Dui Hua detailed in a February 28, 2013 article how between 2008 and 2010 East Turkestan accounted for approximately 50 percent of all Endangering State Security (ESS) trials in China (East Turkestan contained 1.63 percent of China’s total population in 2010).

The article described “splittism” and “inciting splittism” as ESS crimes in China and that “splittism—the incitement of which can amount to little more than blog posts—is commonly lumped together with terrorism and extremism in a tripartite known as ‘the three evil forces.’” Dui Hua concludes: “Given that splittism is the focus of stability maintenance in the region, the great majority of defendants in these trials is almost certain to be Uyghur.”

A 2014 Dui Hua piece dated February 10, 2014, estimated the figure for ESS trials in East Turkestan had risen by 10 percent from 2012 to 2013. The number of ESS trials concluded in 2014 was similar to the 2013 total according to an article published by Dui Hua on March 10, 2015.

The Chinese government often exploits the Uyghurs’ Islamic faith in order to justify repression of opposition to its policies in East Turkestan. A survey undertaken by AP, cited in an article dated September 4, 2011, highlighted an increase in terror arrests worldwide in the decade after 9/11. Of the 66 countries surveyed, accounting for 70 percent of the world’s population, China was one of two countries accounting for half of the 35,117 terror related convictions recorded.

Given Xi Jinping’s April 2014 comments that East Turkestan is the “front line on terrorism,” it is reasonable to presume many of these arrests have been of Uyghurs. The AP article concluded “dozens of countries are using the fight against terrorism to curb political dissent.” Chinese authorities continue to defend their crackdowns in East Turkestan in the name of fighting the “three evil forces of separatism, terrorism, and extremism.”

With the announcement of a one-year “anti-terror campaign” in May 2014, concerns over judicial process regarding cases involving Uyghurs have been raised, especially since Xinjiang party chief, Zhang Chunxian stated the anti-terror crackdown will employ “unconventional measures.” Since May 2014, Chinese and overseas media have described a series of region wide mass trials, death sentences, and executions.

The Uyghur Human Rights Project (UHRP) has compiled eight egregious political prisoner cases, but stresses this list is merely the tip of a very large iceberg. In addition to political prisoners about whom information is available, there are unaccounted numbers of Uyghurs imprisoned whose names are unknown and cases undocumented. The political prisoner profiles chosen also represent the kinds of issues for which these unknown Uyghurs could be jailed.

Ilham Tohti and Gheyret Niyaz were jailed for exercising their freedom of speech. Professor Tohti was particularly outspoken on a number of economic, social and cultural issues facing the Uyghurs through his Uighurbiz website. The case of Gheyret Niyaz illustrates the constraints placed on freedom of the press.

Uighurbiz volunteers Atikem Rozi and Mutellip Imin were sentenced in December 2014. In addition to the denial of their fundamental right to freedom of speech, the cases of Atikem Rozi and Mutellip Imin highlight the difficulties facing young Uyghurs. Rozi faced systemic discrimination when attempting to secure a passport and Imin wrote a remarkable account of his enforced disappearance at the hands of Chinese security officials.

The jailing of Merdan Seyitakhun is demonstrative of the curbs placed on religious rights in East Turkestan and Huseyin Celil’s imprisonment questions the legitimacy of China’s anti-terror campaign aimed at Uyghurs. The detention of HIV/AIDS activist, Akbar Imin is a potent example of the limited space Uyghurs have to raise social problems with the state. Imin was also a volunteer for Uighurbiz, and he was rounded up with a group of seven students including Atikem Rozi and Mutellip Imin.

The case of Abdurazzak Shamseden is illustrative of the Chinese government’s harsh crackdown after the violent suppression of a protest in Ghulja in 1997 and how Chinese authorities target family members of Uyghur activists. His treatment in prison displays the endemic nature of torture facing Uyghur political prisoners.

The list is compiled as a CALL FOR ACTION to the global community of activists to remind China that it is obliged to abide by international human rights standards, especially those contained in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Profiles contain information on the life and work of each Uyghur political prisoner, as well as details regarding their cases. Also provided are introductions to the issues raised by each prisoner of conscience and opportunities to discover more information through external research.

UHRP links to ACTIONS THAT YOU CAN TAKE on behalf of each Uyghur and has created a PETITION for you to sign that will be sent to Chinese president, Xi Jinping asking for the immediate release of these eight political prisoners. 

CLICK HERE for the first prisoner page: Ilham Tohti