Beijing (AsiaNews) - A group of 51 Chinese Han lawyers and professors has published an open letter expressing their concern about the "criminalization of free speech" that occured in the case of journalist imagine Hailie Niyazi, sentenced last July 23 to 15 years in prison for endangering state security. The letter, which we publish in full, was posted on the Internet by Chinese Human Rights Defender and has been circulated on mainland China.
Respect Freedom of Expression, Release Xinjiang Journalist Hailaite Niyaz
We have learned that 51-year old Uyghur journalist and author Hailaite Niyazi (whose name also appears as Hairat or Gheyret Niyaz or Niyaze) was recently sentenced to 15 years in prison by the Urumqi Intermediate Court in Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR) for "leaking state secrets." Born in Qoqek (Tacheng), XUAR, Niyazi graduated from the Minzu University of China in Beijing and has previously held the positions of Chief Editorial Director of Xinjiang Legal Daily and Deputy Director of the Perspectives on the Rule of Law (Fazhi Zongheng) magazine publishing house. A former editor and director of the website Uighurbiz.net, as well as manager of the site's discussion forum, for a long time Niyazi has written online essays in Chinese, gradually building a wide following among China’s netizens.
Niyazi combined his personal experiences facing problems affecting the Uyghur community with systematic research. According to an Asia Weekly report, Niyazi carefully tracked Uyghur netizen reactions to the 2009 Shaoguan incident in Guangdong Province and came to the conclusion that a major incident was likely to take place on July 5, 2009. Around eight o'clock on the evening of July 4, Niyazi contacted government officials to warn them of his findings; the next morning, at 10 am, he personally met with top officials of the XUAR to offer three specific recommendations.
However, officials did not act on his recommendations. Niyazi believed that the July incident's causes could be traced to dissatisfaction with bilingual education initiatives in Xinjiang and government-organized efforts to send Uyghurs to other provinces to work as industrial laborers. Niyazi expressed the above opinions in media interviews, and soon thereafter published an article regarding the September 3rd incident [a demonstration by Han Chinese in Urumqi demanding the removal of Xinjiang Autonomous Region Chief Wang Lequan for mishandling the July 5 violence].
His articles pointed out that Uyghurs have not received tangible economic benefits despite living in a resource-rich region, and have been gradually marginalized and pushed into poverty. Furthermore, as the Xinjiang government has expanded anti-terrorism policies and anti-splittist ideological campaigns in the past 20 years and set up checkpoints around the XUAR, Uyghurs in many areas have been subjected to dehumanizing searches and inspections which have heightened anxieties in the Uyghur community and aggravated ethnic conflict.
Niyazi is a Uyghur intellectual who upholds the spirit of independence, and who for a long time has been greatly concerned about the fate of China and its ethnic minorities, as well as with problems affecting citizens' civil rights and livelihood. He promoted increasing mutual understanding between Uyghurs and Han and his views about politics and culture are moderate and rational, to the point that some believed he was sympathetic to the regime. This kind of intellectual is extremely important in advancing communication and reconciliation between ethnic groups. The groundless charges brought against Niyazi, and the severe sentence he has received, are bound to foment extremist thoughts and actions and deepen ethnic tensions. Chinese citizens of all ethnicities, including Han and Uyghur, are affected negatively by this sentence.
Additionally, we have learned that more Uyghur website managers and journalists have been arrested or imprisoned for expressing their opinions. We are deeply troubled by this news. We believe that the thoughts and opinions of every person, regardless of their background, ethnicity, or beliefs, deserve full and equal respect. We believe that charging Niyazi and others with speech crimes violates the constitutional promise that "the state respects and guarantees human rights," contradicts explicit constitutional protections for citizens' freedom of speech, and runs counter to provisions in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and other international human rights treaties which China has signed. We hope that the relevant authorities are able to respect the rule of law, and wisely and courageously act to ensure citizens are guaranteed their freedom and dignity. This will form a solid foundation for the easing of ethnic tensions, safeguarding of social peace, and unity of the country.