Uighur student Shoret Nijat is detained at an undisclosed location in Xinjiang on charges of participating in alleged separatist activities led by Ilham Tohti, founder of the Xinjiang news website Uighurbiz. Police arrested Nijat, a contributor to Uighurbiz, in late January or early February, 2014.
Nijat is one of seven students connected to Tohti who were charged with being involved with Uighurbiz during a secret trial held in November 2014, according to Tohti’s lawyer Li Fangping and a post by Uighurbiz’s official Twitter account.
Police took Tohti from his home on January 15, 2014, and the Uighurbiz website he founded, also known as UighurOnline, was closed. The site, which Tohti started in 2006, was published in Chinese and Uighur, and focused on social issues.
Urumqi police charged Tohti with separatism on February 20, 2014. He was accused of using his position as a lecturer at Minzu University of China to spread separatist ideas through Uighurbiz. On September 23, 2014, the Urumqi Intermediate People’s Court sentenced Tohti to life imprisonment. He denied the charges.
Several foreign governments and human rights organizations protested the sentence. The European Union released a statement condemning the life sentence as unjustified. Then-U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said the U.S. was concerned by the sentencing and called on Chinese authorities to release him, along with seven of his students.
Tohti’s appeal request was rejected at a hearing in a Xinjiang detention center on November 21, 2014, that was scheduled at such short notice that his lawyer was unable to attend.
Nijat was charged alongside the students Perhat Halmurat, Luo Yuwei, Mutellip Imin, Abduqeyum Ablimit, Atikem Rozi, and Akbar Imin with being involved with Uighurbiz during a secret trial held in November 2014, according to Tohti’s lawyer Li Fangping. Many were administrators for the site, according to state media. According to the political prisoner database of the Congressional-Executive Commission on China, an organization set up by the U.S. Congress to monitor human rights and laws in China, Rozi and Mutellip Imin wrote for the site. Imin, who is from Xinjiang and enrolled at Istanbul University in Turkey, also has a blog. He was arrested when he tried to leave China.
According to The New York Times, three of the students made televised confessions on the state-run China Central Television, saying they worked for the site. Halmurat claimed to have written an article, Nijat claimed to have taken part in editorial policy decisions, and Luo, from the Yi minority, claimed to have done design work.
The seven students were sentenced to three to eight years in prison, according to the Global Times, a state-run newspaper. The length of sentence for each student was unclear and details of where they are being held were not disclosed.
CPJ could not determine the names or contact details of the lawyers representing the students. As of late 2021, CPJ could not determine the state of Nijat’s health or the conditions under which he was being held. According to The New York Times in 2014, the students were being held in Xinjiang.
An October 2018 report by the Congressional by the Congressional-Executive Commission on China, a U.S. congressional advisory panel, found “mass, arbitrary, internment of as many as 1 million or more [Uighurs] and other Muslim ethnic minorities in ‘political reeducation’ camps in western China.”
In an email to CPJ in September 2019, Abduweli Ayup, a once-jailed Uighur-language activist who has left China and follows such cases closely, said that any students whose prison terms may have expired likely remain detained in so-called re-education camps in Xinjiang.
The majority population of ethnic Uighurs in Xinjiang are subject to cultural and religious repression, surveillance, arrest without charge, and internment, according to reports. For fear of government retaliation and further abuses, people inside the region are often reluctant to provide information about those who disappear into state custody, according to news reports. According to an annual survey conducted by the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of China in 2019, a vast majority of surveyed journalists who traveled to Xinjiang said they experienced government interference in their reporting.
CPJ called the Urumqi Public Security Bureau in late 2019 but no one answered the phone. In late 2021, CPJ called that bureau again, but the number was out of service. The Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region Prison Administration and the Xinjiang People’s Procuratorate did not respond to CPJ’s emails requesting information about Nijat’s health and status in late 2021.