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23 September 2014

China: Deplorable life sentence for Uighur academic

The life sentence handed down by a Chinese court to prominent Uighur academic Ilham Tohti on charges of “separatism” is an affront to justice, Amnesty International said.

“This shameful judgement has no basis in reality. Ilham Tohti worked to peacefully build bridges between ethnic communities and for that he has been punished through politically motivated charges,” said William Nee, China Researcher at Amnesty International.

“Tohti is a prisoner of conscience and the Chinese authorities must immediately and unconditionally release him.”

Through his work as an academic and writer, Tohti has tried to build mutual understanding between Uighurs and Han Chinese in the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region (XUAR), amid rising ethnic tensions in the region. He founded the website Uighur Online and is an outspoken critic of Beijing’s policies in the XUAR.

Police arrested Tohti, along with seven Uighur students, in January this year. He has been tortured in detention, was denied food for 10 days and shackled for more than 20 days.

His trial has been marked by a series of legal shortcomings. His legal team were refused access to evidence and they were unable to meet Tohti for six months. One of Tohti’s lawyers was also forced to quit the case following political pressure.

The seven Uighur students face a similar charge of “separatism”, although it is unclear when their trials will take place or whether they have been allowed legal representation.

“These criminal charges make a mockery of President Xi’s calls for a greater understanding and solidarity between the Uighur and Han communities. Instead of targeting peaceful activists like Tohti the Chinese authorities must end the systemic discrimination and suppression Uighurs face,” said William Nee.

“It is appalling that seven young Uighurs are caught up in the authorities’ desire to persecute Tohti. It is emblematic of the Chinese authorities prioritization of ‘stability above all else’ above justice and the rule of law.”


Uighurs face widespread discrimination in employment, education, housing, and curtailed religious freedom as well as political marginalization.

The authorities have ratcheted up restrictions on public displays of Islam; long beards have been banned, as have veils, hijabs, and T-shirts with the Islamic crescent moon and star.

During the month of Ramadan, several government websites in the XUAR put students under extreme pressure by banning fasting and insisting that all Communist Party members and government employees adhere to atheism.

Tohti’s sentencing comes after a wave of violent attacks and suppression of protests in the region. One of the most violent incidents occurred on 28 July, with state media reporting 37 civilians were killed when a ‘knife wielding mob’ stormed government offices in the town of Shache. Security forces are reported to have shot dead 59 attackers during the incident.

Uighur groups dispute this account, saying as many as 2,000 Uighurs were killed when police opened fire on hundreds of people protesting against severe restrictions placed on Muslims during Ramadan.

In May, the authorities launched an anti-terrorism “strike hard” campaign that has seen mass arrests and hundreds of people, mostly Uighurs, rounded up and imprisoned after unfair trials.

This followed a spate of violent attacks in which mostly Han-Chinese were killed. Three died and 79 were injured in a bomb and knife attack at a train station in Urumqi – the region’s capital – on 1 May; followed by bombs being hurled out of cars in the town’s busy market a few weeks later, killing 39 and injuring 94 passers-by.


Amnesty International
4 July 2011

China: Authorities grow bolder in Uighur crackdown

Two years on from riots and mass arrests in China’s Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, Amnesty International has warned that the Chinese authorities continue to silence those speaking out on abuses during and after the unrest.

Hundreds of people were detained and prosecuted following the riots, with several dozen sentenced to death or executed and hundreds detained, with many of these sentenced to long prison terms.

Managers of well known Uighur websites and journalists have been jailed for involvement in posting messages announcing the protests, or for talking to foreign media.

Uighur asylum seeker Ershidin Israil was recently forcibly returned from Kazakhstan to China amid reported pressure from the Chinese authorities. He had been recently interviewed by Radio Free Asia about the alleged torture and death in custody of a young Uighur man in the aftermath of the protests.

“The government is not only still muzzling people who speak out about July 2009, it is using its influence outside its borders to shut them up,” said Sam Zarifi, Amnesty International’s Director for the Asia-Pacific.

“The general trend towards repression that we see all over China is particularly pronounced in Xinjiang, where the Uighur population has become a minority in its own homeland.”

On 5 July 2009 a protest in the regional capital Urumqi against perceived Chinese government inaction over the death of a Uighur factory worker in southern China, turned to ethnic rioting following police violence against demonstrators.

The unrest was followed by numerous reports of enforced disappearances, and torture in detention. The government is still arresting those who reveal human rights abuses that took place during and after the protests.

Dozens of people have reportedly been detained and ill-treated in connection with the revelation of the alleged death in custody reported to Radio Free Asia.

“Attacking every Uighur who speaks freely is no way to resolve the underlying grievances that led to the 2009 protests in the first place,” said Sam Zarifi. “The Chinese government has to listen to the grievances of the Uighur community and address their demands to have their rights respected and their culture protected.”

Memetjan Abdulla, a prominent state radio broadcaster is serving a life sentence for posting a protest notice on the Uighur website Salkin. Tursanjan Hezim and Dilshat Paerhat, both former web editors of well-known Uighur websites that reportedly posted protest notices, are serving seven and five years sentences respectively.

Hairat Niyaz, a Uighur journalist and website editor previously seen as pro-government, is serving a 15-year sentence on charges of “endangering state security” for essays he had written and interviews he gave to Hong Kong journalists following the July 2009 protests.

The Chinese authorities blamed overseas agitators for planning, directing and instigating the July 2009 unrest, without presenting evidence. According to official figures, 197 died in the course of the violence, the vast majority of them Han Chinese.

Eye witness accounts presented by Amnesty International in its 2010 report, ‘Justice, justice’: The July 2009 protests in Xinjiang, China, cast doubt on the official version of events, and point to unnecessary or excessive use of force by police against Uighur protesters including beatings, use of tear gas and shooting directly into crowds.

Amnesty International
15 June 2011

Uighur teacher extradited to China on politically motivated ‘terror’ charges

A Uighur schoolteacher is facing politically motivated terror charges in China after he reported a death in custody, Amnesty International said today following his extradition from Kazakhstan.

The Chinese Foreign Ministry yesterday confirmed that Ershidin Israil is being held on terrorism charges as a “major terror suspect”, although the charges were not substantiated.

“It appears that Ershidin Israil’s only ‘crime’ was to report a human rights abuse. He was living openly before fleeing the country and only appears to have become a ‘major terror suspect’ after divulging the inside story of torture in Chinese jails to the world,” said Sam Zarifi, Asia-Pacific Director at Amnesty International.

“This makes him a prisoner of conscience, detained for exercising his right to freedom of expression, and the Chinese authorities must release him. Currently, he is at grave risk of torture and an unfair trial.”

Israil fled on foot to Kazakhstan from China in September 2009, just days after giving an interview to a foreign journalist about the death in custody of a young Uighur, Shohret Tursun, in the wake of the July 2009 unrest in Urumqi, China.

After the interview the Chinese authorities issued a warrant for his arrest, along with two other individuals involved in reporting the death in custody.

The UN refugee agency (UNHCR) in Kazakhstan granted Israil refugee status in March 2010 and he was due to be resettled in Sweden on 1 April, 2010.

However, he was instead taken into custody by the Kazakh authorities in April 2010 and formally arrested in June 2010. He was in prison until his extradition this year.

The UNHCR revoked his refugee status on 3 May 2011, reportedly under intense pressure from the Chinese and Kazakh authorities. The UN refugee agency has refused to disclose the grounds for their decision.

Israil was reportedly handed over the Chinese authorities on 30 May.

Chinese nationals are prosecuted and sentenced to long prison terms for providing information deemed sensitive by the Chinese authorities to foreign sources.

4 February 2011

Long-standing Uighur grievances behind repeated protests must be addressed

February 5 marks the 14th anniversary of a violent crackdown on peaceful Uighur protesters by security forces in the city of Gulja (In Chinese: Yining), in the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region (XUAR) in China’s far-West. On 5 February 1997 dozens of people were killed or injured in Gulja when security forces opened fire on Uighur protesters. The Uighurs had begun a peaceful protest against the banning of “meshreps”, a traditional Uighur form of social gathering, the closing of a Uighur football league, high unemployment among Uighurs, and the closure of religious schools. Many dozens were killed and injured, and potentially hundreds in the ensuing days according to unconfirmed reports. In the government crackdown, thousands were detained, many hundreds disappeared, and there were reports of executions after unfair trials.

Security forces cracked down violently again on 5 July 2009 when Uighurs in Urumqi began a peaceful protest, this time about perceived government inaction over beatings and killing of Uighur migrant workers by Han Chinese in Shaoguan, in the southern province of Guangdong, in June 2009. Violent clashes between ethnic groups and Han Chinese ensued, leading to hundreds of deaths. In the crackdown that followed, as in Gulja, thousands were detained, hundreds imprisoned, and dozens sentenced to death and executed after unfair trials.

The government has refused to allow an independent investigation into either incident and in particular the use of lethal force against initially peaceful protests. No member of the security forces is known to have been investigated or prosecuted.

Read the rest of this entry »

Press release
30 July 2010

China convicts Uighur web managers on state security charges

Amnesty International has condemned the closed trial and conviction of three Uighur website managers on state security charges.

Dilshat Perhat, web manager and owner of the Diyarim website was sentenced to five years by an Urumqi court in a closed trial on 21 July; Nureli, web manager of Salkin was sentenced to three years; and Nijat Azat, web manager of Shabnam was sentenced to 10 years, according to Dilmurat Perhat, Dishat’s brother.

The three websites were among the most popular Uighur language news and community forums operating in Xinjiang prior to the 5 July 2009 riots.

”The Chinese governments’ attempts to control all online activity in Xinjiang is not going to silence those with genuine grievances,” said Sam Zarifi, Asia-Pacific Director for Amnesty International. “These three Uighur web managers must be released.”

Dilmurat was repeatedly warned by Xinjiang authorities against speaking to the media about his brother Dilshat’s case. He had earlier complied with their demands out of fear that his brother could be convicted. “But today, I’m not worried because my brother has been sentenced already,” Dilmurat told Amnesty International from the United Kingdom.

“This government charge against my brother and the other Uighur websites was for endangering state security, but they didn’t do anything” said Dilmurat, who had worked with his brother Dilshat in managing the Diyarim website.

“My brother was supportive of the Chinese government always. We ran the website from 2002 to 2009 – for seven years, we didn’t have any problems with the Chinese government.”

Dilmurat says that the secret nature of the Urumqi trials were a result of government fear of protest, because “the Chinese government has not any evidence to sentence these people.”

He suspects that web managers came under pressure from authorities due to articles that anonymous people posted on their websites prior to the 5 July, 2009 riots in Urumqi. The riots led to 197 deaths according to official figures, and more than 1,400 detentions.

Amnesty International’s investigation of the riots suggests that the Chinese government used excessive force in dealing with the riots and in their aftermath, arbitrarily detained Uighurs, and mistreated detainees. AI’s findings were published in June 2010 as ‘Justice, Justice’ – The July 2009 protests in Xinjiang, China.

From 3 July 2009, Dilmurat’s brother notified Chinese security officials five to six times to notify them that articles calling for a peaceful demonstration had been posted anonymously on the Diyaram website, and that he had deleted them. A demonstration notice was posted again at 3:30 am on Sunday 5 July, on the Diyarim, Salkin and Shabnam websites, and the web managers were not able to remove them until later in the day.

Following the riots, the three websites were all closed down by government censors.

Amnesty International is calling for the release of the Uighur language web managers and for the release of other arbitrarily detained Uighurs.

Prominent Uighur journalist Hairat Niyaz was recently sentenced to 15 years imprisonment through a secret trial in Urumqi, for little more than giving interviews to Hong Kong media.

Uighur writer Gulmira Imin, who had contributed to the Salkin website, was sentenced to life imprisonment in April 2010 for ‘splittism, leaking state secrets and organising an illegal demonstration.’ During her trial she alleged torture and ill-treatment in detention.

Related information:

Amnesty International
Press Release
2 July 2010

New testimonies reinforce call for China to investigate Xinjiang riots

Amnesty International has urged the Chinese government to launch an independent investigation into last year’s riots in the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region, after new testimony obtained by the organization has cast further doubt on the official version of events.

A new report, “Justice, justice”: The July 2009 Protests in Xinjiang, China includes newly gathered testimonies from Uighurs who fled China after the unrest, which centred on Xinjiang’s capital, Urumqi.

Interviewees described unnecessary or excessive use of force, mass arrests, enforced disappearances, and torture and ill-treatment in detention that occurred on 5 July 2009 and during the ensuing government crackdown.

“The official account leaves too many questions unanswered. How many people really died, who killed them, how did it happen, and why?” said Catherine Baber, Amnesty International’s Asia-Pacific Deputy Director.

Ahead of the 5 July anniversary, security in Xinjiang has been tightened, with reports of restrictions on freedom of movement and expression, and on Uighur community organizations.

“Instead of stifling inquiry, blaming outside agitators and generating fear, the Chinese government should use the anniversary to launch a proper investigation, including into the Uighur community’s long-simmering grievances that contributed to the unrest,” said Catherine Baber.

Eyewitnesses to the 5 July events confirmed that the protest against government inaction in the face of killings of Uighur factory workers in southern China started peacefully, but was met with violence by security forces. One 29-year-old woman from Urumqi said:

“…some 20 military vehicles arrived. The security forces carried automatic rifles and started to push the demonstrators. A woman walked towards them. A policeman shot her. She died. It was shocking, and I was very frightened. Everything then became chaotic.”

Rioting erupted later in the evening, particularly in the southern, Uighur, part of the city, resulting in numerous deaths and injuries. Chinese officials said that 197 people died in the violence on 5 July. Of the killed, 156 were described as “innocent people” who included 134 ethnic Han Chinese, 11 Hui, 10 Uighurs and one Manchurian.

A 22 year-old male eyewitness described the chaos and violence in Urumqi:

“At about 8pm [on 5 July], a group of Uighurs went past our house towards the south, smashing cars and other property. Then, about 30 minutes later there was another group of Uighurs. They were running, the army was behind them. The army shot at them as they fled, in the back. I think maybe three of them died, they were shot in the back.”

“It’s unclear whether authorities were adequately prepared to protect all citizens, and whether they had the right training and equipment to control the situation without resorting to lethal force,” said Catherine Baber.

Violent attacks were reported in the city throughout the week, with eyewitnesses reporting to Amnesty International that in some cases police failed to protect Uighurs attacked by Han Chinese on 7 July.

China has recently approved a development package for Xinjiang to promote social stability, but Amnesty International has urged the government to deliver both equity and justice in Xinjiang, and ensure broad community consultation in all future planning and implementation.

“The Chinese government hopes to stabilize Xinjiang by directing money at the problem, but without a credible independent investigation of the Urumqi riots and underlying grievances, resentment and mistrust will continue,” said Catherine Baber.

Over a thousand people were detained in the aftermath of the unrest and possibly hundreds subjected to enforced disappearances. According to official statistics, at least 198 people have been sentenced, following trials that Amnesty International considers to have fallen short of international fair trial standards. Nine people are known to have been executed and at least 26 more sentenced to death.

Amnesty International has called on China to set up an independent and impartial inquiry into the human rights abuses committed by all participants in the Urumqi unrest, and to ensure a transparent judicial process for all those facing charges linked to the unrest, including fair trials in accordance with international standards.

November 13th 2009

China: Obama must press China to uphold human rights

President Obama must use his first official visit to China to urge the authorities to reverse the sharp rise in human rights violations in the country, Amnesty International has said.

The organisation reminded President Obama in an open letter that he has a responsibility to publicly push for an improvement in China’s poor human rights record during his scheduled visit to China next week.

Thousands of Chinese activists and human rights lawyers continue to face arbitrary detention, harassment and imprisonment following unfair trials while the authorities continue to execute more people than the rest of the world combined.

“The Chinese government has stepped up efforts to silence any internal criticism or challenge, despite the country’s massive economic growth. President Obama must take this opportunity to show that the US views human rights as a central plank of its relationship with China,” said Sam Zarifi, Amnesty International’s Asia Pacific Director.

Amnesty International continues to monitor the cases of many individuals who are being held in administrative detention, including the “re-education through labour” detention system, where detainees can be locked up for up to four years without trial.

Torture by law enforcement personnel is endemic, resulting in many prisoners’ deaths while in custody.

Human rights lawyers are harassed, intimidated, assaulted, abducted, forcibly disappeared, placed under surveillance and house arrest and faced criminal charges for protecting the rights of others.

In the first half of 2009 alone, Amnesty International documented the cases of at least four human rights lawyers who were threatened with violence; at least 10 who were prevented from meeting with or representing their clients in courts, and at least five who were briefly detained, one for one month, because of their human rights work.

The announcement this week that authorities had executed eight Uighurs and one Han Chinese for their alleged role in the July riots are further proof of the urgent need for the US administration to push China for an independent, impartial, and transparent investigation of the events surrounding the July riots.

Uighurs and other ethnic minority and religious groups such as Tibetans and Falun Gong practitioners continue to be ill-treated and face persecution for their beliefs.

“Despite China adopting a human rights action plan after hosting the Olympic Games last year its government needs to show the world that it is serious about meetings its obligations under international human rights law,” said Sam Zarifi.

Amnesty International calls on China to show its commitment to human rights by immediately meeting the following benchmarks:

  • Abolition of the “Re-Education through Labour” detention system. There is a strong domestic call in China for the reform of the system. In the run-up to the Beijing Olympics, an open letter calling for its abolition solicited 15,000 signatures.
  • A public and independent investigation of the 1989 Tiananmen Square crackdown against pro-democracy demonstrators. Human rights defenders and activists face police harassment and surveillance when they press the authorities to take responsibility for the crackdown in 1989.
  • A lifting of all restrictions and obstacles to freedom of worship. Thousands are detained for their religious activities.
  • Cessation of the repression of Tibetans and Uighurs and respect for their ethnic, cultural and religious identity. Tibetans and Uighurs has been the target of systematic and extensive human rights violations. These include arbitrary detention, torture, severe restrictions on freedom of religion and employment discrimination.

It also calls on President Obama to urge China to:

  • Release Shi Tao, a journalist who was sentenced to ten years imprisonment on charges of “illegally providing state secrets to foreign entities” due to an email he sent to a US-based website. Court records show that one of the evidence was Shi Tao’s account holder information provided to the police by Internet company Yahoo! Inc.
  • Release immediately and unconditionally those detained solely for engaging in peaceful protest, including support for the Dalai Lama, the independence of Tibet, or greater autonomy for Tibet.
  • Release prisoner of conscience Ablikim Abdiriyim, son of Uighur activist Reibya Kadeer. He is serving a nine-year sentence in the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region (XUAR) on charges of “instigating and engaging in secessionist activities.” There are serious concerns that he may have confessed under torture. Ablikim Abdiriyim was detained with his siblings and several family members in May 2006. Their detention prevented them from meeting with a United States Congressional delegation on a scheduled visit. His brother Alim Abdiriyim is also in prison on charges of tax evasion, which may be politically motivated.
  • Ensure lawyers’ rights to carry out their legal work without harassment, intimidation, violence or fear of criminal prosecution.

For Immediate release

10 July 2009

China: Authorities widen crackdown after Xinjiang riots

Chinese president Hu Jintao’s threats of severe punishment for those who took part in the recent unrest in Xinjiang failed to address the serious human rights violations at the root of Uighur grievances, Amnesty International said.

At a meeting last night, President Hu and other state leaders called for stability and unity in the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region (XUAR), and blamed the “three forces” of terrorism, separatism and extremism for masterminding and organizing the riots.

“The Chinese leadership should focus both on the grim conditions that many Uighurs face and respond with a credible, truthful, transparent investigation into the recent violence,” said Roseann Rife, Amnesty International Asia-Pacific deputy director.

Amnesty International is concerned about the comments of Urumqi’s Communist Party Secretary, Li Zhi, who, according to state media China Central Television, stated in a news conference on 8 July that “brutal criminals will be sentenced to death.”

“Only the courts are eligible to make sentencing decisions. The remarks concerning capital punishment given by the city’s party chief outside the judicial system shows a complete disregard for rule of law and judicial independence,” said Roseann Rife.

Sources in China told Amnesty International that Beijing judicial authorities had sternly warned a number of human rights lawyers, through the law firms where they are employed, not to take on any cases related to the unrest in XUAR. Those who have already taken up cases related to last year’s unrest in the Tibet Autonomous Region had to return to the capital and report on their work to the judicial authorities.

“Intimidating lawyers not to defend individuals detained during the recent unrest obstructs their right to counsel of their choosing and undermines the likelihood of fair trials and due process,” said Roseann Rife.

Sources also told Amnesty International that Ilham Tohti, editor of the Uyghur Online website ( and economics professor at Central Nationalities University in Beijing, has been detained by the Chinese authorities since the early morning of 8 July. Beijing police interrogated Professor Tohti from 5 to 7 July. His whereabouts are still unknown. Professor Tohti has been commenting on the situation of Uighurs in China for years, and his blog has been censored since the unrest in the Tibetan Autonomous Region in 2008.

“A crackdown that extends beyond the XUAR and to people not involved in any protests, much less violence, is not the answer to the unrest,” said Rife. “We urge the authorities to immediately account for Ilham Tohti’s whereabouts, and ensure that he has not been detained merely for peacefully expressing his opinions.”

Amnesty International recognizes the duty of the Chinese authorities to ensure the safety of everyone at risk from violence, and their duty to bring to justice those responsible for crimes of violence in the context of the current unrest in Xinjiang.

However, Amnesty International has documented instances where the authorities initiated heavy-handed crackdowns following protests in the region, including in Barren (Chinese: Baren) township in 1990 and in Gulja (Chinese: Yining) city in 1997, resulting in deaths of protestors and thousands of detentions. The organization urges the authorities not to repeat the patterns of past responses and to avoid the use of unnecessary or excessive force in restoring order, allow independent and impartial investigation into the events, and ensure that any trials be conducted fairly, in line with international standards, and without recourse to the death penalty.

Amnesty International reiterates its call for a fair and impartial investigation to the events that broke out in the XUAR since 5 July and urges the authorities to respect and protect the rights to life and freedom from discrimination on the basis of ethnic origin by addressing abuses and violations of these rights by state and non-state actors.

Amnesty International also calls on Chinese authorities to fully account for all those who have died and for all those in detention.

For more information, see:

About me & Disclaimer

I am a volunteer for Amnesty International USA. The opinion expressed on this blog does not represent the positions, strategies or opinions of AIUSA, AI headquarter in UK, or any other organization on planet earth.

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