RSF – Reporters Sans Frontières
Published on 24 July 2010
Reporters Without Borders said it was outraged at the harshness of a 15-year prison sentence handed down today to journalist Gheyret Niyaz by a court in Urumqi, in Xinjiang province.
He was arrested in October 2009 following ethnic unrest in Xinjiang in July 2009 and found guilty of “threatening national security” after criticising Chinese official policy towards the Uyghurs, sending news about the riots to foreign journalists and contributing to a website accused of inciting violence.
“We are utterly astonished at the outcome of this trial,” the worldwide press freedom organisation said. “Gheyret Niyaz did indeed make some criticism of Chinese policy in his region, but he is neither a criminal nor a dissident. He is seen by Uyghurs based abroad as supporting China’s administration of Xinjiang and even shares some of the Chinese government’s views of the summer 2009 unrest.
“In giving him such a heavy sentence and imprisoning other journalists and netizens whose sole crime is to have spoken about these events, the Chinese authorities are not encouraging a negotiated solution. On the contrary, this shocking sentence shows that the authorities put control of news above the reconciliation process. Prisoners of opinion should be released and the verdict against Gheyret Niyaz quashed on appeal”, the organisation added.
Niyaz gave an interview to Hong Kong magazine Yazhou Zhoukan (www.yzzk.com), in July 2009 in which he supported the official version of events that implicated external agents in the rioting, saying that the Islamic Liberation Party, Hizb-ut-Tahrir al Islami, was behind them. He also claimed to have warned the authorities that things were getting out of hand. In the same article he raised the issue of economic inequalities in Xinjiang, as well as some aspects of the struggle against “separatism”.
He also contributed to the website Uighurbiz.cn, a bilingual forum on Uyghur life and culture that the government accused of inciting violence by posting news about clashes between Uyghurs and Han Chinese in another region of the country.
China cracked down on the Internet as it restored order in the region hit by the disorder of last summer. Access to the Chinese Internet was cut for six months from July 2009 then gradually re-established between January and May this year. Reporters Without Borders in October 2009 carried out an investigation into access to websites relating to the Uyghur community that found more than 85% of the 91 websites surveyed were blocked, censored or otherwise inaccessible. (http://en.rsf.org/china-survey-of-b...)
Bloggers, netizens and website managers have been singled out for repression. Gheyret Niyaz is not the only one in detention. Dilshat Parhat, co-founder of the Uyghur website Diyarim, Nureli, creator of the Uyghur website Selkin, Muhemmet, director of a Uyghur website and Obulkasim, a contributor to Diyarim, all remain in prison.
At least 30 journalists and 76 netizens are currently behind bars in China and Reporters Without Borders repeats its call for their unconditional release.