Chinese police patrol Urumqi following ethic violence in July 2009. (Reuters)
Chinese police patrol Urumqi following ethic violence in July 2009. (Reuters)

Uighur refugee extradited by Kazakhstan, held in China

Kazakhstan authorities have extradited Uighur schoolteacher Arshidin Israil to China, where officials have described him without elaboration as a “major terror suspect,” according to Reuters and other news accounts. Israil and his supporters believe the detention comes in reprisal for reporting he contributed to Radio Free Asia concerning the July 2009 riots in Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region, according to Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. Israil, a native of Xinjiang, fled China after the unrest but was detained in Kazakhstan in June 2010, according to news reports. He was extradited on May 30 of this year, days after Chinese authorities censored reporting and restricted online discussion about ethnic unrest in Inner Mongolia–an autonomous ethnic region like Xinjiang.

The 2009 riots in Xinjiang marked an upsurge in unrest in the region, which is home to predominantly-Muslim Uighur, Kazakh, and other minority groups.  Severe internet restrictions in the capital, Urumqi, and throughout the region continued for 10 months after the violence was quelled, according to CPJ research. Israil’s detention is the latest in a series of punitive measures targeting Uighurs involved in reporting on the unrest.  CPJ has reported on the sentencing of Uighur website editors Tursunjan Hezim, who was handed a seven-year prison term for unknown charges in 2011; Nijat Azat, Dilixiati Paerhati and Nureli, who were given 10, five, and three years in prison on state security charges in 2010; and journalist Gheyret Niyaz, sentenced to 15 years in prison in 2010 for an interview about the riots he gave to a Hong Kong-based newspaper.  

Israil had provided details of a Uighur man beaten to death on September 18, 2009, while being held for his participation in the riots, according to Radio Free Asia.  He fled to Kazakhstan where he was granted refugee status by the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in March 2010, which arranged for him to be resettled in Sweden that April, according to a March 2011 report submitted by Juan Méndez, U.N. special rapporteur on torture, to the U.N. Human Rights Council.

International rights groups condemned Kazakhstan–a country where CPJ has catalogued systematic disregard for press freedom domestically–for detaining Israil and preventing him from reaching Sweden.  New York-based Human Rights in China said China used the Shanghai Cooperative Organization–a multilateral security group including Kazakhstan, Russia, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and China–to put pressure on Kazakhstan in Israil’s case under the guise of terrorism accusations. Then the UNHRC reconsidered and revoked his refugee status on May 3, 2011, without disclosing the reason, according to rights groups and international news reports. Amnesty International said China and Kazakhstan had influenced the decision.

Official restrictions on Chinese media have intensified following calls in February for a “Jasmine revolution,” and the October 2010 Nobel Peace Prize award to imprisoned writer Liu Xiaobo.  Israil’s extradition and China’s crackdown on reporting on riots in Inner Mongolia is part of a systematic targeting of ethnic journalists and sources reaching even further. CPJ’s 2010 imprisoned census noted “a series of imprisonments of Uighur and Tibetan journalists that began in the latter half of 2009 and continued into 2010.” Israil’s detention, which like many of those cases lacks transparency and due process, bodes ill for other sources who try to shed light on ethnic minorities under Chinese rule.