China imprisons Uighur web-editor in new crackdown

An ethnic Uighur website editor was sentenced to seven years in prison in China after a secret trial, Amnesty International said March 7. Tursunjan Hezim, a 38-year-old former history teacher, was reportedly detained shortly after the July 2009 protests in Urumqi, Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR). Tursanjan Hezim ran a popular Uighur-language website, Orkhun, which covered local history and culture until it was shut down shortly after the protests. His family was never informed of the charges against him and his whereabouts remain unknown. The government has not publicly stated the grounds for his detention. (Amnesty International, March 7)

Uighur advocacy groups overseas last month criticized the death sentences handed down for four men, all apparently ethnic Uighurs, in three separate incidents of violence. Two of the men were convicted in connection with a bombing attack that killed at least seven people Aksu last August. A third was convicted of killing a police officer in Khotan in November. The fourth man was found guilty of killing two people in Hami region late last year.

“By sentencing these four Uighurs to death, China is attempting to intimidate the Uighur people, fearing that they will take to the streets to demand human rights, democracy and freedoms from the authoritarian Chinese government,” said Uighur exile leader Rebiya Kadeer. (RTTNews, NYT, Feb. 24)

Last month, Internet calls for “Jasmine” protests in China, inspired by the Arab protest movements, were headed off by pre-emptive detainments of suspected leaders in Beijing, although small protests were held in Hong Kong calling for a democratic transition in the People’s Republic. An Internet call was issued at the last minute for protesters to gather in Beijing’s Wangfujing shopping district Feb. 19, although those who showed up were overwhelmingly police agents. But Internet calls have persisted, leading authorities to both carry out more pre-emptive arrests and issue statements denouncing the campaign. (The Independent, March 7; CNN, Feb. 20)

See our last posts on the China, the Uighur struggle and the politics of cyberspace.

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  1. China begins trial against human rights activist
    Chinese authorities in Beijing on Aug. 12 began the trial against Wang Lihong, one of the dozens of human rights activists the government detained earlier this year as part of a crackdown on dissidents in the country. Wang is charged with one count of creating a disturbance for allegedly utilizing the Internet to attempt organizing anti-government demonstrations during the recent period of similar unrest in the Middle East. Her supporters contend that the offense of “creating a disturbance” is purposefully ambiguous, and that it is frequently levied against vocal government opponents.

    Wang was arrested in April, shortly before the anniversary of the peaceful Tiananmen Square protests of June 1989. In the months prior to the occasion, the government arrested at least 48 individuals in what rights group Chinese Human Rights Defenders (CHRD) described as the “most severe repression of dissent and activism since the post-Tiananmen crackdown.” A contingent of several international diplomats, including representatives from the US and European Union, sought to attend the proceedings but were denied entry. If convicted, Wang faces a maximum of five years in prison. (Jurist, Aug. 13)