Chinese activists speak out for jailed Uighur

Originally published by  The Associated Press,31 July 2010

BEIJING — Some of China’s most well-known activists are circulating an open letter protesting the 15-year prison term for a Uighur journalist snared in tensions that followed the country’s worst ethnic rioting in decades.

 The letter, e-mailed within China and published Friday by the Hong Kong-based Chinese Human Rights Defenders, is the latest in a chorus of international protest to last week’s sentencing of 51-year-old Halaite Niyaze.

 Niyaze wrote critical articles and made critical comments to foreign media after last July’s ethnic rioting in the capital of the western region of Xinjiang that left nearly 200 dead and 1,700 injured. The government has tried to block dissent following the violence between the minority Uighurs, a largely Muslim ethnic group, and majority Han Chinese, who have been moving into the region under a government campaign to develop the west.

 Niyaze’s 15-year sentence was among the harshest handed down for someone who committed no violence in the riots.

 “This kind of intellectual is extremely important in advancing communication and reconciliation between ethnic groups. The groundless charges brought against Niyaze, and the severe sentence he has received, are bound to foment extremist thoughts and actions and deepen ethnic tensions,” the activists’ letter says.

 The letter says Niyaze even warned Xinjiang officials of possible violence after tracking Uighur reactions online to a fight between Uighur and Han Chinese workers in southern China, in which Han workers killed two Uighurs.

 “However, officials did not act on his recommendations,” the letter says.

 The letter’s two dozen signers include well-known rights lawyer Teng Biao and Fan Yafeng, a legal scholar and former researcher at the official Chinese Academy of Social Sciences. Only one apparent Uighur name is among them.

 Both Teng and Fan confirmed Saturday that they signed the letter.

 On Friday, another three Uighurs were jailed for running popular Uighur-language sites with content considered politically sensitive. Amnesty International on Friday condemned their closed trial and convictions.

 All four Uighurs were convicted under the same vaguely worded charge of “endangering state security” that China’s authoritarian government often uses to silence political critics.

 Hundreds of people have been arrested after the riots and about two dozen were sentenced to death. Many Uighurs remain unaccounted for and are believed to be in custody.