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HARSH SENTENCES IMPOSED ON UIGHUR DISSIDENTS

Just days after ARTICLE 19 and Reporters Without Borders (Reporters sans frontières, RSF) reported that an Uighur activist was sentenced to nine years in prison last week for disseminating "secessionist" articles over the Internet, a Canadian-Uighur activist was given life in jail, according to media reports.

Ablikim Abdiriyim, son of Nobel Peace Prize nominee Rebiya Kadeer, was sentenced to nine years in jail on 17 April for instigating and engaging in secessionist activities, turning the public against the Chinese government and distorting China's human rights and ethnic policies, report ARTICLE 19 and RSF. He was also deprived of political rights for three years, effective after his release. Amnesty International confirmed that Abdiriyim was very ill as a result of severe beatings suffered since he was detained in June 2006. He has reportedly been denied access to medical care.

According to the Chinese state news agency, Xinhua, one of his crimes was requesting that two articles he had downloaded from the Internet in 2004 - "Issues to be aware of and prohibited in Jihad" and "Struggle toward independence" - be uploaded by the Uighur-language Yahoo! But according to RSF, Yahoo! does not have any Uighur content.

Abdiriyim is a member of the large Uighur population of the Xinjiang region of China. Xinjiang - which is predominantly Muslim, and borders Pakistan, Afghanistan and Central Asia - has long desired autonomy from Beijing. According to ARTICLE 19, Abdiriyim's mother, Rebiya Kadeer, was imprisoned in 1999 for six years under charges of "leaking state secrets." She was exiled to the U.S. upon her release, where she continues to work for the rights of the Uighur people.

Abdiriyim's sentence is part of a wider context of increasing limits being placed on freedom of expression in China under the guise of the war on terror, says ARTICLE 19. Chinese authorities have labelled Uighur activists as terrorists for allegedly using violence in their struggle to set up an independent East Turkistan state in Xinjiang.

Just two days after Abdiriyim's sentence was handed down, Canadian-Uighur human rights activist Huseyin Celil was deemed a "terrorist" and was sentenced to prison for life, report Amnesty International and Canadian media. Born and raised in China, Celil was arrested after campaigning for Uighur rights, but he escaped from prison in 2000 and fled to Uzbekistan. He made his way to Turkey and then Canada, where he was given citizenship in 2005.

But during a March 2006 visit to his wife's relatives in Uzbekistan, Celil was arrested and extradited to China. Canada has angered Chinese officials by aggressively lobbying for his release - China does not recognise Celil's Canadian citizenship and says his case is not subject to consular agreements.

Visit these sites:
- ARTICLE 19 on Abdiriyim: http://www.article19.org/pdfs/press/china-sedition.pdf
- RSF on Abdiriyim: http://www.rsf.org/article.php3?id_article=21823
- Amnesty International on Abdiriyim: http://tinyurl.com/22b29z
- Amnesty International on Celil: http://tinyurl.com/ytjdzs
- "The Globe and Mail" on Celil: http://tinyurl.com/2dnoc2
(24 April 2007)

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