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A Public Letter by Chinese Citizens Urging the Release of Uyghur Journalist Hailaite Niyazi

(Chinese Human Rights Defenders-July 30, 2010) Agroup of Chinese lawyers and scholars have made public an open  letter expressing concern about  the“criminalization of speech” in the case ofUyghur journalist Hailaite Niyazi, who was sentenced on July 23 to 15years inprison for endangering state security (for CHRD’s statement protestingNiyazi’ssentence, please see here).Theoriginal letter (available here,inChinese) is being circulated domestically; CHRD has translated theletterand is circulating it internationally on behalf of the authors (fulltextbelow). To join the list of supporters, please email and includeyourname, current city of residence, and occupation.   "RespectFreedomof Expression, Release Xinjiang Journalist Hailaite Niyazi" Wehave learned that 51-year old Uyghur journalistand author Hailaite Niyazi (whose name also appears as Hairat orGheyret Niyazor Niyaze) was recently sentenced to 15 years in prison by the UrumqiIntermediate Court in Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR) for"leaking state secrets." Born in Qoqek (Tacheng), XUAR, Niyazigraduated from the Minzu University of China in Beijing and haspreviously heldthe positions of Chief Editorial Director of XinjiangLegal Daily and Deputy Director of the Perspectives on theRule of Law (Fazhi Zongheng) magazinepublishing house.  A former editor anddirector of the website, as well as manager of the site'sdiscussion forum, for a long time Niyazi has written online essays inChinese,gradually building a wide following among China’s netizens. Niyazicombined his personal experiences facingproblems affecting the Uyghur community with systematic research.According toan Asia Weekly report, Niyazicarefully tracked Uyghur netizen reactions to the 2009 Shaoguanincident inGuangdong Province and came to the conclusion that a major incident waslikelyto take place on July 5, 2009. Around eight o'clock on the evening ofJuly 4,Niyazi contacted government officials to warn them of his findings; thenextmorning, at 10 am, he personally met with top officials of the XUAR toofferthree specific recommendations. However, officials did not act on hisrecommendations. Niyazi believed that the July incident's causes couldbetraced to dissatisfaction with bilingual education initiatives inXinjiang andgovernment-organized efforts to send Uyghurs to other provinces to workasindustrial laborers. Niyazi expressed the above opinions in mediainterviews,and soon thereafter published an article regarding the September 3rdincident [ademonstration by Han Chinese in Urumqi demanding the removal ofXinjiangAutonomous Region Chief Wang Lequan for mishandling the July 5violence]. Hisarticles pointed out that Uyghurs have not received tangible economicbenefitsdespite living in a resource-rich region, and have been graduallymarginalizedand pushed into poverty. Furthermore, as the Xinjiang government hasexpandedanti-terrorism policies and anti-splittist ideological campaigns in thepast 20years and set up checkpoints around the XUAR, Uyghurs in many areashave been subjectedto dehumanizing searches and inspections which have heightenedanxieties in theUyghur community and aggravated ethnic conflict.   Niyaziis a Uyghur intellectual who upholds thespirit of independence, and who for a long time has been greatlyconcernedabout the fate of China and its ethnic minorities, as well as withproblemsaffecting citizens' civil rights and livelihood. He promoted increasingmutualunderstanding between Uyghurs and Han and his views about politics andculture aremoderate and rational, to the point that some believed he wassympathetic tothe regime. This kind of intellectual is extremely important inadvancing communicationand reconciliation between ethnic groups. The groundless chargesbroughtagainst Niyazi, and the severe sentence he has received, are bound tofomentextremist thoughts and actions and deepen ethnic tensions. Chinesecitizens ofall ethnicities, including Han and Uyghur, are affected negatively bythissentence. Additionally,we have learned that more Uyghurwebsite managers and journalists have been arrested or imprisoned forexpressing their opinions. We are deeply troubled by this news. Webelieve thatthe thoughts and opinions of every person, regardless of theirbackground,ethnicity, or beliefs, deserve full and equal respect. We believe thatchargingNiyazi and others with speech crimes violates the constitutionalpromise that"the state respects and guarantees human rights," contradictsexplicit constitutional protections for citizens' freedom of speech,and runscounter to provisions in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights andotherinternational human rights treaties which China has signed. We hopethat therelevant authorities are able to respect the rule of law, and wiselyandcourageously act to ensure citizens are guaranteed their freedom anddignity.This will form a solid foundation for the easing of ethnic tensions,safeguarding of social peace, and unity of the country. Signatories:WangLixiong (Beijing, scholar)MaoYushi (Beijing, scholar)CuiWeiping (Beijing, scholar)Yilihamu(Beijing, scholar)Woeser(Beijing, writer)    XuYouyu (Beijing, scholar)AiXiaoming (Guangzhou, scholar)DuGuang (Beijing, scholar)HaoJian (Beijing, scholar)GuoYuhua (Beijing, scholar)XiaYeliang (Beijing, scholar)ZhangLifan (Beijing, scholar)LiDatong (Beijing, scholar)LiaoYiwu (Chengdu, writer)ZhangZanning (Nanjing, scholar)ZhouFeng (Beijing, scholar)ZhuYi (Beijing, scholar)FanYafeng (Beijing, scholar)MaBo (Beijing, writer)YuMeisun (Beijing, scholar)GuoYushan (Beijing, scholar)HuangZhong (Beijing, scholar)TengBiao (Beijing, scholar) July 30, 2010

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