Uighur student Shoret Nijat was sentenced in 2014 to 7 years’ imprisonment for contributing to the Xinjiang news website Uighurbiz. He was being held in Turpan Prison in the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region, but CPJ has been unable to determine whether he was released on schedule in 2021.
Nijat is one of seven students who were detained in early 2014 and charged with participating in alleged separatist activities led by Ilham Tohti, a scholar and the founder of.Uighurbiz, during a secret trial held that November, according to Tohti’s lawyer Li Fangping and a post by Uighurbiz’s official Twitter account. Uighurbiz, also known as UighurOnline, which Tohti started in 2006, was published in Chinese and Uighur, and focused on social issues.
Nijat was charged alongside the students Abduqeyum Ablimit, Perhat Halmurat, Luo Yuwei, Mutellip Imin, Atikem Rozi, and Akbar Imin, according to Li Fangping. Many were administrators for Uighurbiz, according to state media and 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 rule of law in 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.
Tohti was sentenced to life imprisonment. The seven students were sentenced to between three and eight years in prison each, according to the Global Times, a state-run newspaper.
Two, Akbar Imin and Mutellip Imin, were released in 2019 and 2021 respectively, according to Chinese-language human rights news website China Political Prisoner Concern, but the status of the others remains unclear and several human rights organizations believe the students could be among those sent to political re-education camps or kept in prison after their sentences ended.
"It’s hard to say what happens to people after sentences end,” Gene A. Bunin, curator of the Xinjiang Victims Database, told CPJ in a direct message on Twitter. “A lot of people were re-sentenced for "disturbing supervision order". Those who got out in 2017-2018 were often forwarded to camp."
Abduweli Ayup, a once-jailed Uighur-language activist who has left China and follows such cases closely, told CPJ in 2019 that any students whose prison terms may have expired likely remain detained in so-called re-education camps in Xinjiang.
Nijat’s sentence should have expired on January 14, 2021, according to Human Rights Watch.
A Congressional-Executive Commission on China report found “mass, arbitrary, internment of as many as 1 million or more [Uighurs] and other Muslim ethnic minorities in ‘political re-education’ camps” in Xinjiang, where the majority population of ethnic Uighurs are subject to cultural and religious repression, surveillance, arrest without charge, and internment.
CPJ sent messages to the Xinjiang governmental service and the Xinjiang region prison administration via messaging app in September 2022 seeking information about Nijat’s whereabouts but did not receive a response.