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Heavy Prison Term for Uyghur Advocate of Inter-ethnic Understanding

July 23, 2010

Gheyret Niyaz (in Chinese, Hailaitie Niyazi [海来提•尼亚孜 or 海莱特•尼亚孜]), a 51-year-old Uyghur journalist, was tried for “endangering state security” on July 23, 2010, and sentenced to 15 years’ imprisonment, according to an interview with Niyaz’s wife, Risalet (in Chinese, Reshalaiti [热莎来提]), reported on, where Niyaz was an administrator. The conviction was reportedly based on an August 2, 2009, interview with Niyaz published in the Hong Kong news weekly Yazhou Zhoukan in which Niyaz discussed his efforts to alert the authorities in Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR) about the possibility of trouble the day before the outbreak of the violent ethnic conflict in Urumqi on July 5, 2009. In the interview, Niyaz said that the authorities took no action to prevent the outbreak, despite Niyaz’s repeated warnings.

In the report, Risalet, who attended the trial, also said that Niyaz maintained that in accepting the interview, he was performing the duty of a citizen and journalist. A graduate of Minzu University of China (formerly known as the Central University for Nationalities), known as a place where the Chinese government nurtures pro-Beijing ethnic minority officials, Niyaz speaks and writes mainly in Chinese, and is widely regarded as a moderate voice who advocates greater understanding between the Han and Uyghur people. Niyaz has worked at two state-controlled publications, as a former director of Xinjiang Legal Daily and a journalist at the Xinjiang Economic Daily.

“In the context of the prolonged news blackout and strict information control in the XUAR following the violence in July 2009, Niyaz’s draconian prison sentence raises serious concern about the authorities’ respect for freedom of expression, and capacity and commitment to protect fundamental rights and freedoms,” said Sharon Hom, executive director of Human Rights in China.

HRIC urges the Chinese authorities to take immediate and concrete actions to address the human rights violations in the XUAR and the fundamental causes of instability and ethnic conflict.

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