The WUC welcomes the release of Ablikim Abdiriyim and calls on China to release all Uyghur political prisoners
In light of the release of the son of WUC president Rebiya Kadeer, Ablikim Abdiriyim, on May 31, 2015, the WUC calls on China to release all of its Uyghur political prisoners whom it has unfairly and unjustly imprisoned for exercising their right to free expression, assembly and association in the context of the conflict in East Turkestan. Not only have Uyghurs living in East Turkestan been imprisoned for speaking out, but harassment and intimidation of family members of those who now live abroad has increasingly become a more serious concern.
Ablikim was initially arrested in 2006 and subsequently sentenced to nine years in prison by the Urumqi Intermediate People’s Court for “instigating and engaging in secessionist activities” – evidence of which was never provided by the state. The verdict alleged he disseminated pro-secession articles, planned to incite anti-government protest, and wrote an essay misrepresenting human rights conditions in the region.
Ablikim was also not provided the right to legal representation and his family was unable to attend his trial on January 22, 2007. Credible reports from Amnesty International (AI) also suggest that Ablikim faced harsh treatment and torture at the hands of Chinese authorities and a confession was also likely obtained by this method. Ablikim was also reportedly transferred to solitary confinement when he refused to sign documents, “denying that he had witnessed a controversial incident in the prison”.
Also significant is the fact that Ablikim remained innocent throughout the entire ordeal, as no substantive evidence was ever brought forward or released on public record. Despite this, Ablikim wound up serving his full 9-year sentence without exemptions or reductions by the state, who was plainly acting in retribution for the role that his mother had played in relation to Uyghur rights issues.
One of Ablikim’s brother, Alim, was arrested on 14 June, 2006, and was indicted on charges of tax evasion by the Tianshan District People’s Court where he was given a 7-year prison sentence. Kadeer’s third son, Kahar, was also fined USD 12,500 in the process.
Also of unique significance to these cases was the timing in which the sentences were handed down to both Alim and Ablikim – the same day that Rebiya Kadeer was elected president of the World Uyghur Congress. Ms. Kadeer had mentioned to a third party at the time that her sons would likely suffer greatly if she were to run for the position.
In a statement, Ms. Kadeer said that “I am glad that finally my son, Ablikim, has been released, but I will only find true happiness when the remaining thousands of Uyghur political prisoners, all of whom I consider my sons and daughters and all unjustly condemned to an appalling fate, are unconditionally released by the Chinese government.”
Rebiya Kadeer, now 69 years old, a steadfast supporter of Uyghur rights and a major contributor to women’s rights in China, was released from a Chinese prison 10 years ago this past month. She founded the “Thousand Mothers Movement” in 1997, primarily as a means of promotion of female-specific job training and employment opportunities for women.
She was then arrested in 1999 and sentenced to eight years in prison ostensibly for “illegally providing state intelligence abroad”. Despite her release in 2005, Ms. Kadeer’s family has been a constant target of persecution by the Chinese government, especially since she relocated to the United States.
Back in 2012, after Chinese authorities forced Alim Abdureyim to sign documents releasing ownership of two buildings, one formerly owned by Ms. Kadeer and the other by her daughter Akida Rouzi, to the state, Ms. Kadeer said that, “My sons’ only ‘crime’ is their relationship to me – and because the Chinese government is no longer able to silence me, they are going after my family.”
The targeting of family members is not new and continues to act as a wedge against the Uyghur diaspora from levelling criticism at Chinese policies. China imprisoned three brothers of Washington-based reporter, Shohret Hoshur, of Radio Free Asia, who represents one of the only independent sources of information from the region. Harassment and intimidation of Hoshur began in 2009 after he reported on a Uyghur torture victim. One brother was sentenced to 5 years in prison last year for violating state security laws and the remaining two were recently detained for allegedly leaking state secrets.
The list of political prisoners continues to grow in East Turkestan as countless Uyghurs have served, or are serving, sentences in Chinese prisons. Though it is nearly impossible to grapple with the sheer number of those currently locked away, the trend in China continues to be one of increased severity – spurning criticism from all sides.
One particular case illustrating the nature of the legal system is that of Uyghur religious leader, Abdukiram Abduveli, who was detained in 1990 and initially to 12 years in prison in 1993 for charges including “organizing a counter-revolutionary group”. His original sentence has subsequently been extended on 5 separate occasions and has now remained in detention for nearly 24 years. His family was only able to meet with him last April and described his deteriorating health situation, including malnourishment and the need for a wheelchair, as well as his inability to hold a phone for more than two minutes on his own.
Prominent Uyghur scholar and critic, Ilham Tohti, also remains in prison, serving his life sentence that was handed down back in September, 2014. The case initially attracted international attention and condemnation, but has since been relegated to the space of the activist community, out of the purview of state representatives. He has since been denied visits from his family in 2015, another example of the callousness of Chinese authoirities.
Along with political dissidents, journalists in China also bear the brunt of aggressive censorship. According to a recent report by the Committee to Protect Journalists, China is the world’s worst jailer of journalists, with 44 remaining in prison by the end of 2014. Remarkably, 17 of these journalists are Uyghur, who make up only between one and two percent of China’s total population.
The WUC therefore calls on the international community, including NGOs, states and other bodies, to recognize the deteriorating situation in East Turkestan and to exert pressure on the Chinese leadership to discontinue its harshly restrictive policies. It must be understood that it is in the interest of China to temper their attitudes towards Uyghurs to ensure that Uyghur rights are respected and that true ethnic harmony may eventually be achieved.
We must also note that throughout the entire ordeal involving Ablikim, the international community was able to come together, including states, international human rights organizations and other NGOs to raise awareness about is case and the WUC extends its thanks to all those who have and continue to work to advocate for those who need it most.