New Information Released on Uyghur Political Prisoners Mehbube Ablesh and Omer Akchi

October 20, 2010

New information is now available on the cases of two Uyghur political prisoners serving prison sentences in the far western region of Xinjiang. According to information from the Dui Hua Foundation, Mehbube Ablesh, a radio station employee detained in 2008 in apparent connection to her criticism of Chinese government policies, is now known to be serving a three-year sentence for "splittism" (separatism). The date she was sentenced is not known. Omer Akchi, a farmer sentenced to 14 years in prison in 1997 for a "counterrevolutionary" crime in connection to an organization he allegedly led, is now known to have had his sentence extended in December 2006 to life in prison for a "splittist" crime. The details of this crime are not known. As of October 2010, he is the only known living prisoner in the Congressional-Executive Commission on China's Political Prisoner Database who has had his sentence extended to life imprisonment.

Mehbube Ablesh

According to a report from the Dui Hua Foundation, based on responses to a request for information from Chinese authorities, former Uyghur radio station employee Mehbube Ablesh is serving a three-year prison sentence in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR) for "splittism" (separatism), a crime under Article 103 of China's Criminal Law, in apparent connection to her criticism of Chinese government policies. (See the Dui Hua Foundation's summer 2010 Dialogue Newsletter and article on Uyghur cases.) Given the length of the sentence and circumstances of the case, Dui Hua conjectures that the full charge could be "inciting splittism."

Authorities detained Mehbube Ablesh (identified as Mehbube Abrak in information provided to Dui Hua) in August 2008, but at that time, charges against her and subsequent information on the case remained unknown. As reported in the Congressional-Executive Commission on China (CECC) Political Prisoner Database, Mehbube Ablesh was fired from her job in the advertising department at the Xinjiang People's Radio Station in Urumqi in August 2008 and placed in detention. A co-worker connected the detention to articles she wrote for the Internet. An overseas source said that in her communications with him, she had been critical of political leaders in the XUAR and had criticized Mandarin-focused language policies in the region. (See Radio Free Asia reports from August 8 (1, 2) and August 9, 2008, for initial reports on the case.) She is serving her sentence in the Xinjiang Women's Prison (Xinjiang Number 2 Prison) in Urumqi.

The date of Mehbube Ablesh's sentencing is not known. News of her sentence, however, follows the detention and trials of several other Uyghurs in connection to other articles critical of government policy or in connection to their involvement with Uyghur Web sites. See a related CECC analysis on the cases of Gheyret Niyaz, Dilshat Perhat, Nijaz Azat, and Nureli. The detentions come during a year of tightened controls over the free flow of information in the XUAR following demonstrations and rioting in the region in July 2009.

Omer Akchi

According to Dui Hua information from official Chinese sources, also reported in Dui Hua's summer 2010 Dialogue newsletter, Uyghur farmer Omer (Emer) Akchi's prison sentence was extended in December 2006 from 14 years (a sentence handed down in 1997 for a "counterrevolutionary" crime) to life imprisonment for an alleged "splittist" (separatist) crime. Details of the alleged splittist crime are not available. Dui Hua describes the extension as "presumably for acts committed during his imprisonment." Article 71 of China's Criminal Law provides that if a "criminal again commits a crime" before a punishment is complete, "another judgment shall be rendered for the newly committed crime."

As reported in the CECC Political Prisoner Database, drawing on Dui Hua information based on official Chinese sources, public security officials in Awat county, Aksu district, XUAR, detained nine Uyghur farmers, including Omer Akchi, in or about December 1996. Authorities alleged the men joined the "Islamic Party of Allah" earlier in the year, and that Omer Akchi attended a party meeting in Hotan in November, returning home with drafts of the party's "Basic Program" and constitution. On September 1, 1997, the Aksu Intermediate People's Court sentenced five of the men to prison terms for "organizing and leading a counterrevolutionary group" (a crime since removed from China's Criminal Law), including Omer Akchi, who received the longest sentence, 14 years.

Based on CECC analysis of the 75 cases in its Political Prisoner Database known to involve sentence extensions as of October 2010, Omer Akchi is the only known living political prisoner whose sentence has been extended to life imprisonment. The only other known political prisoner in the Political Prisoner Database to have a sentence extended to life imprisonment, Rigzin Wanggyal, died in 2003. He had been sentenced to 16 years for splittism in late 1995, and his sentence was extended in May 1997 to life imprisonment for "espionage" allegedly committed in prison.

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