Uyghur Webmaster Receives Seven-Year Sentence

March 31, 2011

A new report indicates that a court in Xinjiang sentenced Uyghur Webmaster Tursunjan Hezim to seven years' imprisonment in July 2010. The charges against him are not known, but his sentence follows the detention and imprisonment of several other Web site administrators and staff after demonstrations and riots in Xinjiang in July 2009. Authorities accused some Web sites of contributing to unrest. Tursunjan Hezim ran a Web site that addressed Uyghur history and culture, topics that have come under official scrutiny and censorship in Xinjiang.

The Aqsu Intermediate People's Court in Aqsu municipality, Aqsu district, Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR), sentenced Uyghur Web site administrator Tursunjan Hezim (Hézim) to seven years' imprisonment in July 2010, according to a March 6, 2011, Radio Free Asia (RFA) report. Authorities did not notify his family of the charges, according to a source cited in the report, but the sentence follows the detention and imprisonment of several other Web site administrators and staff (1, 2) after demonstrations and riots in the XUAR starting on July 5, 2009. Authorities detained and imprisoned the Web site workers in apparent connection to announcements on the Internet calling for a demonstration on July 5, 2009, and to online articles and interviews critical of Chinese government policy in the XUAR. Public security officers in Aqsu initially detained Tursunjan Hezim after the July 5, 2009, events, after which time his whereabouts were unknown, according to a source cited in the RFA report and a July 24, 2010, World Uyghur Congress press release. His subsequent trial reportedly was closed, according to the RFA report. Information on the location where he is serving his sentence is unavailable.

A former teacher reportedly dismissed from a post teaching high school history in 2006, Tursunjan Hezim ran the Web site Orkhun, which focused on Uyghur history and culture, according to the RFA article. As documented by the Congressional-Executive Commission on China, in 2008 authorities temporarily shut down the Bulletin Board Service (BBS) of the Web site―along with the BBSs of some other Uyghur sites―during the 2008 Beijing Summer Olympic Games and closed down the Web site, along with other sites, following the July 2009 demonstrations and riots.

Information is not available on what content on the Web site, if any, is connected to Tursunjan Hezim's case. While the July 2009 events brought Uyghur Web sites under a new level of scrutiny, historical and cultural topics connected to the XUAR have long faced official oversight and censorship. Chinese authorities have censored analyses of the region's history, for example, that conflict with state-sanctioned narratives of the XUAR, including official histories describing the region as a part of China for two millennia. (For more information, see the CECC 2009 Annual Report, p. 147.) As part of a regionwide "patriotic education campaign" in the region to "ardently love the great motherland and build a glorious homeland," authorities in the XUAR will focus on education on the history of Xinjiang, along with the history of "ethnic development" and the "evolution of religion," in the latter half of 2011, according to a December 28, 2010, Xinjiang Daily report. Authorities also have imposed official interpretations of the region's cultural heritage, including in a recent submission to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) to inscribe the Uyghur meshrep on UNESCO's List of Intangible Cultural Heritage in Need of Urgent Safeguarding.

For more information on other Web site workers detained following the July 2009 demonstrations and riots in Urumqi, see recent CECC analysis (1, 2) and political prisoner records for Memetjan Abdulla, Gulmira Imin, Gheyret Niyaz, Nijat Azat, Dilshat Perhat, Nureli, Muhemmet, Obulqasim, Xeyrinisa, Xalnur, and Erkin. For more information on conditions in the XUAR, see Section IV―Xinjiang in the CECC 2010 Annual Report.