New Information on Sentences Emerges as Official Information on Xinjiang Trials Remains Limited

January 20, 2011

New information indicates that a court in the far western region of Xinjiang sentenced Uyghur journalist and Web site worker Memetjan Abdulla to life imprisonment in connection to a translation he reportedly posted on the Internet and interviews he gave to foreign media in advance of July 2009 demonstrations and riots in the region. Charges against him are not known, but authorities reportedly portrayed his acts as inciting the July events. News of his sentence, as well as limited information on a Uyghur student now known to have been sentenced the same month, appears unreported in Chinese media, as do several other cases connected to the July demonstrations and riots. Since reporting in March 2010 that 198 people had been tried in connection to the July events, official Chinese media and government sources appear to have provided no detailed information on subsequent trials, though both official and unofficial sources have indicated trials are ongoing.

The Urumqi Intermediate People's Court sentenced Uyghur journalist and Web site administrator Memetjan (Memet, Muhemmetjan) Abdulla to life in prison on April 1, 2010, in connection to a translation he reportedly posted on the Internet and interviews he gave with foreign media in advance of the July 2009 demonstrations and riots in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR), according to new information in December 20 and December 21, 2010, reports from Radio Free Asia (RFA). Memetjan Abdulla, a journalist at China National Radio and administrator for the Web sites Uyghur Online and Selkin, reportedly had translated a World Uyghur Congress (WUC) announcement calling Uyghurs abroad to protest official handling of attacks against Uyghur factory workers in Shaoguan, Guangdong province, in June 2009, which Memetjan Abdulla had taken from a Chinese-language Web site and reposted in translation on Selkin, according to information his friends provided to RFA. (See August 26 and September 2, 2009, RFA reports for additional information on his case.) Uyghur demonstrators in Urumqi on July 5, 2009, were protesting official handling of the Shaoguan attack. An October 15, 2009, China Central Television program (transcript of remarks available via Wudso) showed footage of Memetjan Abdulla in prison clothing, stating that he reposted the WUC announcement on Selkin. Sources in the RFA reports also connected Memetjan Abdulla's detention to his speaking to foreign reporters in Beijing about events in Shaoguan. Authorities reportedly portrayed his acts as inciting the subsequent July events in Urumqi. According to the RFA reports, public security officers in Beijing initially took Memetjan Abdulla into custody in mid-July 2009. The articles did not report precise charges against him or his current prison location. The Urumqi Intermediate People's Court did not provide information on the reported sentence when asked by journalists from RFA and the New York Times (December 24, 2010).

News of the sentence comes approximately a year after official Chinese media publicized information on a series of other trials held in connection to the July 2009 demonstrations and riots, but appeared to limit full information on the number of people sentenced. A series of official media articles reported on the Urumqi Intermediate People's Court's sentencing of 76 people in trials held between October 12, 2009, and January 25, 2010. In March 2010, XUAR government chairperson Nur Bekri reported that 198 people had been sentenced in connection to the July events, though Chinese media appeared to provide no news of the additional 122 people sentenced. Since then, official media and Chinese government sources appear to have provided no detailed information on subsequent cases related to the July 2009 events, although Nur Bekri said in March 2010 that trials were ongoing. On January 16, 2011, Rozi Ismail, head of the XUAR High People's Court, also made a brief reference to ongoing cases connected to the events, stating that courts in the XUAR would "continue to maintain a high pressure, strike-hard posture toward the 'three forces'" of terrorism, separatism, and religious extremism and would "strike hard" against various criminal cases, "taking as the focus severely punishing, in accordance with law, the 'July 5' serious violent crimes," according to an article that day from People's Daily. In a January 14 report before the XUAR People's Congress, he also referred to cases already tried in connection to the July events, according to the article. In response to a question at a December 23, 2010, press conference (via the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs Web site) on the number of people tried since July 2009, a Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesperson said only that "competent Chinese authorities have handled the July 5 incident in a fair and transparent manner according to law, which has also been covered by the media" and told the reporter who asked the question to "refer to relevant media reports." A lawyer in the XUAR reported to RFA in fall 2010 that she and other judges and lawyers had been sent to Urumqi from other localities in the XUAR to handle July 2009-related cases and that they were ordered to finish handling the cases by the end of 2010, according to a September 22, 2010, report. The lawyer added that most cases were handled in closed trials. A Supreme People's Court opinion (estimated date of issue early fall 2010) on providing judicial assistance to the XUAR calls for strengthening "guidance" in trying cases connected to endangering state security, such as cases involving the "three forces," as well as cases "influencing ethnic unity" and social "harmony and stability"—all categories which could include cases connected to the July 2009 events&mdash'but does not specifically mention ongoing trials connected to the July events. Authorities held a training class for ethnic minority lawyers in December 2010 and noted the lawyers' role in July 2009-related cases but did not indicate if trials continue to be held.

The limited number of trials reported on by Chinese media involved people convicted of violent crimes including murder and arson. Unofficial sources have reported on several cases of people detained or imprisoned in connection to organizing or allegedly organizing the demonstration or discussing the July events:

  • Gulmira (Gulmire) Imin, a Uyghur Web site administrator and government employee, was sentenced by the Urumqi Intermediate People’s Court on April 1, 2010, to life in prison for "splittism, leaking state secrets, and organizing an illegal demonstration." Authorities alleged she was involved in organizing the July 5, 2009, demonstration. RFA reported that Gulmira Imin and Memetjan Abdulla were sentenced at the same trial.
  • Gheyret Niyaz, a Uyghur journalist and Web editor in Urumqi, was sentenced by the Urumqi Intermediate People’s Court on July 23, 2010, to 15 years’ imprisonment for "leaking state secrets." Prosecutors in court cited essays by Gheyret Niyaz addressing economic and social problems affecting Uyghurs. Sources also connected the prison sentence to interviews Gheyret Niyaz gave to foreign media after the July 2009 demonstrations and riots that were critical of aspects of government policy in the XUAR.
  • Nijat Azat, Dilshat Perhat, and Nureli, Web site administrators, received prison sentences of 10, 5, and 3 years, respectively, in July 2010 for "endangering state security." Sources connected the cases to their Web sites not deleting postings about hardships in the XUAR and, in one instance, permitting the posting of announcements for the July 2009 demonstration. Other people involved with Uyghur Web sites, including Selkin administrator Muhemmet, Diyarim worker Obulqasim, and Diyarim Web site contributors Xeyrinisa, Xalnur, and Erkin, also were detained following the July events, though information on their current status appears unavailable.
  • Haji Memet and Abdusalam Nasir, two Uyghur men from Huocheng (Qorghas) county, Ili Kazakh Autonomous Prefecture, were detained on September 23, 2009, for their role in sharing information with RFA on the death in custody of Shöhret Tursun, a man from Huocheng who reportedly had been detained in Urumqi on July 6 and died in police custody under suspicious circumstances. Authorities reportedly suspected Haji Memet and Abdusalam Nasir of leaking state secrets.

Unofficial sources also have reported limited information on other cases—apparently unreported in Chinese media—connected to the July events. The Urumqi Intermediate People's Court reportedly sentenced 19-year-old Pezilet Ekber to death, with two-year reprieve, in April 2010 for reported "involvement in violence" during the July 2009 events, according to a source cited in December 28 and December 30, 2010, RFA articles. The source reported that the trial was secret. The precise charges against her are not known. (See a related CECC analysis for requirements in Chinese law on publicizing trials and verdicts.) High school student Noor-Ul-Islam Sherbaz received a life sentence in April 2010 for alleged murder and "provoking an incident" during the July events. Noor-Ul-Islam Sherbaz reportedly denied participating in the July events, and his father alleged that he had been coerced into confessing. (See a July 1, 2010, Amnesty International report and April 23, 2010, RFA report for more information.) Of note, Noor-Ul-Islam Sherbaz reportedly was tried and sentenced by the Aksu Intermediate People's Court, not the Urumqi Intermediate People's Court, although all officially publicized cases have been tried by the latter court, and earlier official statements suggested that the Urumqi court would handle the cases directly connected to the July 2009 events.

For more information on conditions in the XUAR, see Section IV—Xinjiang in the CECC 2010 Annual Report.