04/17/2009, 00.00
CHINA
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Uyghur man sentenced to ten years in prison for talking to friends about protest

Jamal, 24, sent via mobile phone sounds and comments about a shopkeepers’ protest against local authorities. He was eventually arrested for separatism and leaking state secrets.
Beijing (AsiaNews/Agencies) – On 28 February 2008 the People’s Intermediate Court in Turpan sentenced Ekberjan Jamal, 24 and a member of the region's mostly Muslim Uyghur minority, to ten years in prison for alleged separatism and leaking state secrets.

Using a mobile phone Jamal had sent some friends in the Netherlands the sounds of a November 2007 protest by local shopkeepers in Turpan, 180 kilometres east of the Xingjian regional capital, Urumqi.

The shopkeepers had taken to the streets against local authorities on 1, 17 and 18 November for the latter’s failure to restore their businesses and compensate them for lost income after a fire on 3 October 2007 at the Turpan Grand Bazaar (pictured). The fire killed one person and destroyed about 1 million yuan worth of merchandise.

The sounds Jamal shared by cell phone were of police sirens, voices, and his own voice explaining what he was witnessing. Radio Free Asia’s Uyghur service received the tape of the phone conversation and used it in its broadcast.

On 25 December 2007 Chinese authorities arrested Jamal, accusing him of trying to break up the country.

Jamal, who lost his father, is the main support for his mother and two younger sisters.

Now his mother, Ibadethan Jamal, said she wants to launch an appeal on her son's behalf and explain, even via websites, that “Our family is not anti-government. We don't have any complaints about the government."

She added that her son was not tortured and that she can see him once a month.

Xingjian is home to some eight million Uyghurs who are mostly Muslim.

Exiled Uyghur groups have criticised the Chinese state for heavily discriminating against the indigenous population and favouring the mass immigration of ethnic Han Chinese.

What is more, not only are Uyghurs already a minority in their own country, but they have to endure restrictions on their religion as well as their language and traditions.

Many have protested against this kind of treatment.

Recently Chinese authorities have in fact reported an increase in the number of attacks. They also announced police reinforcement and a tougher crackdown against all activities they deem dangerous to “state security”.

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