World Press Freedom Day: WUC Condemns Ongoing Violation of Uyghurs´ Freedom of Expression

Press Release – For immediate release
02 May 2011
Contact:  World Uyghur Congress www.uyghurcongress.org
0049 (0) 89 5432 1999 or [email protected]

On the occasion of World Press Freedom Day, celebrated annually on 3 May, the World Uyghur Congress (WUC) condemns the ongoing violation of the right to freedom of expression of the Uyghur people in East Turkestan and draws the attention of the international community to the fate of imprisoned Uyghur media workers.

China is currently spearheading the list of imprisoned journalists worldwide with at least 34 jailed journalists on 1 December 2010, according to a report by the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ). Reporters Without Borders (RSF) considers China one of world´s top violators of Internet freedom, highlighting that China´s ‘Great Firewall’ is the world’s most consummate censorship system.

Internet users in East Turkestan are not only subject to filtering by the ’Great Firewall’, which blocks access to websites and content regarded as subversive by the authorities (the list of forbidden keywords and terms include “Rebiya Kadeer”, “World Uyghur Congress”, “Uyghur Human Rights Project”, and “East Turkestan”). But Chinese authorities are especially cracking down and jailing Uyghur and Tibetan journalists for exercising their right of freedom of expression guaranteed by Chinese constitution. Limits to Uyghur freedom of speech have significantly increased since the tragic July 2009 events in Urumqi making 2010 an especially black year for Uyghur media workers. Many Uyghur journalists, blogger and website staffs were sentenced to long prison terms in closed and unfair trials, among them:

  • Nureli (Webmaster of the Uyghur website Salkin)
    Sentence: 3 years Charged with: Endangering State Security
  • Dilshat Perhat (Webmaster and owner  of the Uyghur website Diyarim)
    Sentence: 5 years Charged with: Endangering State Security
  • Tursunjan Hezim (manager of Uyghur website Orkhun)
    Sentence: 7 years Charges unknown
  • Nijat Azat (Webmaster of the Uyghur website Shabnam)
    Sentence: 10 years Charged with: Endangering State Security
  • Gheyret Niyaz (Webmaster and administrator of the Uyghur website Uyghur Online)
    Sentence: 15 years Charged with: Endangering State Security
  • Gulmire Imin (staff of the of the Uyghur website Salkin)
    Sentence: Life imprisonment Charged with: Instigating the July 2009 riots, leaking state secrets, and organizing an illegal demonstration
  • Memetjan Abdulla (Manager of the Uyghur website Salkin)
    Sentence: Life imprisonment Charged with: Helping to instigate deadly ethnic rioting in Urumqi in July 2009
  • Other volunteer website staff who had been reportedly detained after the July 2009 events include: Muhemmet, Obulkasim, Muztagh, Lukchek, Yanchukchi, Heyrinsa, Yalnur, Erkin. However, their current legal status and whereabouts remain unknown.

WUC believes that these sentences are the latest attempt by the Chinese authorities to stifle freedom of expression and freedom of the press in East Turkestan, instill sufficient fear to deter Uyghurs from sharing and voicing information about human rights violations that they have experienced and witnessed, and ultimately to cover up the truth of what occurred during and following the July 2009 protests and violent crackdown in Urumqi.

The WUC notes that the detentions and sentences of 2010 occurred in the midst of a state-imposed information blackout that deprived East Turkestan residents of access to internet, e-mail, text messaging and international phone calls for months in the aftermath of the July 2009 protest and ethnic unrest in Urumqi. On 14 May 2010, the regional government of East Turkestan announced that full internet service was being restored after ten months of blocked or limited access in what has been the longest-running case of government censorship of this kind. However, the vast majority of the websites dedicated to the Uyghur community, including sites in Uyghur language, Mandarin, and English, remain blocked, censored, or otherwise unreachable until today.

Although the Chinese authorities’ persecution of Uyghur journalists, webmasters, and bloggers intensified after the July 2009 incidents, it follows a consistent campaign of censorship. Uyghur media workers who have been detained prior to the events of 5 July 2010 have included, but are not limited to:

  • Abdulla Jamal (middle school teacher and writer from Kashgar) was detained on 12 March 2005 and formally arrested in April 2005 in Kashgar for writing a manuscript entitled Disaster in the Oil Well that the authorities claimed incited separatism after he submitted his manuscript for publication. Further details about this case including Abdulla’s whereabouts are unknown.
  • Abdulghani Memetemin (Journalist, writer, teacher, and translator) was detained on 26 July 2002, in Kashgar and he was sentenced to nine years imprisonment plus three years deprivationof political rights on 24 June 2003, for “supplying state secrets to an organization outside the country” (he provided information on human rights abuses in East Turkestan to an Uyghur organization abroad). Memetemin had neither access to a lawyer during his pre-trial detention nor legal representation at the trial; according to Chinese sources, he should be released on 25 July 2011.
  • Nurmuhemmet Yasin (writer) was detained on 29 November 2004 after the Kashgar Literature Journal published his story “Wild Pigeon” in late 2004. “Wild Pigeon” is the allegorical story of the son of a pigeon king who is trapped and caged by humans while on a mission to find a new home for his flock. He eventually commits suicide by eating a poisoned strawberry rather than sacrifice his freedom. Chinese authorities consider the story to be a criticism of their government’s presence in East Turkestan.  Nurmemet Yasin was sentenced in a close trial to 10 years imprisonment for “inciting racial hatred or discrimination”
  • Memtimin Alyar (main administrator for www.bilik.cn), who was first sentenced to 6 years in prison in 2007 for an undisclosed crime but whose sentence was increased to 11 years one week later.
  • Mehbube Ablesh who was fired from her job in the advertising department at the Xinjiang People’s Radio Station in August 2008 and detained the same month in apparent connection to her writings for the Internet that were critical of government policies, including the so-called “bilingual” education; she was sentenced to three years imprisonment for “splittism”. She is serving her sentence in the Xinjiang Women’s Prison (Xinjiang No. 2 Prison) and should be released in 2011 after having completed her sentence.

Since they are due for release in 2011, the WUC wants to draw special attention to the cases of Abdulghani Memetemin and Mehbube Ablesh in a call upon the Chinese authorities to ensure they are freed without delay or hindrance.

All Uyghur media workers mentioned above were convicted on “endangering state security” (ESS) or related charges. Crimes of ESS are defined in articles 102-113 of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) Criminal Law and include acts such as splitting the state, subversion, espionage, and armed rebellion. Many of the ESS crimes carry the possibility of life imprisonment and capital punishment. In March 2006 the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment noted that the “vague definition of [ESS crimes] leaves their application open to abuse particularly of the rights to freedom of religion, speech, and assembly,” and recommended the abolition of such “political crimes.” Human rights organizations have repeatedly highlighted that these charges are regularly and arbitrarily misused by Chinese authorities to silence peaceful Uyghur dissent.

The WUC believes that the aforementioned cases reflect only a fraction of the reality and that many more Uyghur journalists are currently held in Chinese prisons. Unquestionably, press freedom is not a freedom Uyghurs in East Turkestan enjoy today.

By jailing Uyghur media staff, the Chinese authorities are not only violating international law standards, but also Article 35 of their own constitution which guarantees free speech and media freedom.

The WUC calls on the international community to strongly support measures that can help to bring an end to the systematic persecution of Uyghur freedom of expression and defend those trying to uphold those rights. In addition, the WUC urges the Chinese government to immediately and unconditionally release all imprisoned Uyghur journalists and media workers.

Note: The United Nations General Assembly declared 3 May to be World Press Freedom Day to raise awareness of the importance of freedom of the press and remind governments of their duty to respect and uphold the right to freedom of expression enshrined under Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.