China sentences Uighur journalist to 15 years

New York, July 26, 2010—The 15-year jail sentence imposed by a Chinese court on Uighur journalist and website manager Gheyrat Niyaz is unjustly harsh and should be overturned immediately, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today. The fact that Niyaz was convicted under sweeping “endangering state security” charges is an indicator of how far the government will go to silence journalists who speak critically about sensitive issues in the county, CPJ said.

According to international media reports, Niyaz was punished because of an August 2, 2009, interview with Yazhou Zhoukan (Asia Weekly), a Chinese-language magazine based in Hong Kong. In the interview, Niyaz said authorities had not taken steps to prevent violence in the July 2009 ethnic violence that broke out in China’s far-western Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region. At the time, media reports said about 200 people were killed in the violence.

“Gheyrat Niyaz has been harshly punished because he dared to criticize the government for not trying to stop the ethic violence before it started,” said Bob Dietz, CPJ’s Asia program coordinator. “We call on the authorities to overturn this miscarriage of justice and free Niyaz immediately.”

Niyaz, who worked for state newspapers Xinjiang Legal News and Xinjiang Economic Daily, also managed and edited the website Uighurbiz until June 2009. A statement posted on the website quoted Niyaz’s wife as saying that although he did give interviews to foreign media he had no malicious intentions.

On August 7, 2009, authorities detained a second Uighur website manager, Dilixiati Paerhati. His website, Diyarim, was shut down in July 2009. Until now, CPJ has been unable to determine where the men were being held. The whereabouts of Paerhati are still unclear.

Authorities have blamed local and international Uighur sites for fueling the violence between Uighurs and Han Chinese in the predominantly Muslim Xinjiang region.