Uighur website editor sentenced in secret in China

New York, March 10, 2011–The secret sentencing of a Uighur website editor emerged this week, eight months after he was tried along with other journalists and dissidents charged in the 2009 unrest in northwestern Xinjiang, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today. 

A court in the far-western district of Aksu sentenced Tursunjan Hezim, who edited a well-known Uighur website, Orkhun, to seven years in prison on unknown charges in a trial closed to observers, according to U.S.-based Uighur scholar Erkin Sidick and U.S. government-funded Radio Free Asia. Hezim was detained after July 2009 ethnic violence in the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region but his whereabouts were unknown, Sidick told CPJ by e-mail.

Details are still emerging about those detained in massive sweeps of activists, intellectuals, writers, and journalists in mid-2009. At least four other Uighur Web managers received heavy prison terms for posting articles and discussions about the previous year’s violence. Police in Xinjiang detained foreign journalists and severely restricted Internet access for several months after rioting between groups of Han Chinese and the predominantly Muslim Uighur minority broke out in Urumqi, the regional capital, on July 5, 2009.

“News that yet another web editor in China was punished for sharing information on ethnic unrest is distressing, but it is not surprising,” said Bob Dietz, CPJ Asia program coordinator. “This is a reminder that the central government’s ferocious reaction to potential opposition like that seen in the Middle East and North Africa has long been the reality for journalists in sensitive areas like predominantly Muslim Xinjiang.”

Chinese authorities frequently restrict information on sensitive trials, particularly those involving ethnic minorities. While Hezim’s conviction has only recently come to light, it was imposed in July 2010, Radio Free Asia reported, citing an anonymous source. The news comes after three weeks of high security and restrictions on the foreign press and local bloggers reporting on calls for an anti-government “Jasmine Revolution” in Chinese cities.

In other July 2010 trials, Uighurbiz website manager Gheyrat Niyaz was sentenced to 15 years in prison; Nijat Azat, manager of the Shabnam website, was sentenced to 10 years; Dilixiati Paerhati, manager of Diyarim, was given a five-year term; and Nureli (who goes by one name), manager of Salkin, was sentenced to three years, according to CPJ research.  

EDITOR’S NOTE: The name of Tursunjan Hezim’s website has been corrected to Orkhun in the second paragraph.