A county where China persecutes Uighurs has the highest arrest rate in the world: One in 25 people is in jail

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They were locked up in Dabancheng prison for “religious extremism” or “bringing the people together to change the social order”, among other arguments. In total, there are about 10,000 Muslims in prison.

Police officers at the outside entrance of Urumqi Detention Center No. 3 in Dabancheng, Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region in western China (AP Photo/Mark Schiefelbein, File)
Police officers at the outside entrance of Urumqi Detention Center No. 3 in Dabancheng, Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region in western China (AP Photo/Mark Schiefelbein, File)

About one in 25 people has been sentenced to prison in a county in China’s Uyghur region. A review of leaked Associated Press data deals with terrorism-related charges, the highest known incarceration rate in the world.

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A list obtained and partially verified by the AP, More than 10,000 Uighurs were sent to prison in Konasheher county alone, one of dozens in southern Xinjiang . In recent years, China has applied brutal repression of the Uighurs, a largely Muslim minority, which it describes as a war on terror.

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The list is the largest ever to emerge among the names of incarcerated Uyghurs. Chinese government campaign that dragged a million or more people into concentration camps and prisons . It also confirms what families and rights groups have been saying for years: China relies on a long-term prison system to keep the Uighurs in line, using the law as a weapon of repression.

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Under heavy international criticism, Chinese authorities announced that the extrajudicial short-term detention camps where Uyghurs were expelled free of charge were closed in 2019. Yet, while attention is focused on the camps, thousands of Uyghurs are still imprisoned for years, even decades, for what experts say are fabricated terrorism charges.

FILE - People stand at a watchtower on the perimeter wall of Urumqi Detention Center No. 3 in Dabancheng, Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region in western China.  (AP Photo/Mark Schiefelbein, File)
FILE – People stand at a watchtower on the perimeter wall of Urumqi Detention Center No. 3 in Dabancheng, Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region in western China. (AP Photo/Mark Schiefelbein, File)

Uyghur farmer Rozikari Tohti was known as a soft-spoken, family-loving man with three children and no interest in religion. Then her cousin Mihrigül Musa was shocked to learn that Tohti spent five years in prison. “religious extremism” .

“I never thought he’d be arrested,” said Moses, who now lives in exile in Norway. “You’d feel the same way if you saw it. That’s very serious.”

From the list, Musa learned that Tohti’s younger brother, Ablikim Tohti, was also sentenced to seven years in prison for “gathering the people to disturb the social order”. Tohti’s next-door neighbor, a farmer named Nurmemet Dawut, was sentenced to 11 years in prison for the same charges and “fighting and messing things up”.

Konasheher County is a typical rural area of ​​southern Xinjiang, with more than 267,000 people living there. The list shows that nationwide prison sentences range from 2 to 25 years, with an average of nine years. While most of the people on the list were arrested in 2017, according to Uighurs in exile, their sentences are so long that the vast majority will still be in prison.

Uyghur Nursimangul Abdureshid, 34, poses for a photo in Istanbul (AP Photo/Emrah Gürel)
Uyghur Nursimangul Abdureshid, 34, poses for a photo in Istanbul (AP Photo/Emrah Gürel)

Sweeps came from all walks of life and included men, women, young and old. They had one thing in common: they were all Uyghurs.

Experts say it clearly shows that people are being targeted simply because they are Uighurs, a conclusion Chinese officials vehemently denied. Xinjiang spokesman Elijan Anayat said the sentences were carried out in accordance with the law.

“We will never specifically target certain regions, ethnic groups, religions, let alone the Uighurs,” Anayat said. “We will never persecute the good, nor will we abandon the bad.”

The list was obtained by Xinjiang scholar Gene Bunin from an anonymous source who described himself as “opposing the Chinese government’s policies in Xinjiang” as a member of China’s Han Chinese majority. Uyghur linguist Abduweli Ayup, who was exiled in Norway, handed over the book to AP. The AP confirmed this through interviews with eight Uighurs who knew the 194 people on the list, as well as legal notices, recordings of phone calls with Chinese officials, and verification of addresses, birthdays and identification numbers.

Uyghur Nursimangul Abdureshid, 34, holds a photo of his family, some of whom are imprisoned, in an interview with the Associated Press in Istanbul.  (AP Photo/Emrah Gurel)
Uyghur Nursimangul Abdureshid, 34, holds a photo of his family, some of whom are imprisoned, in an interview with the Associated Press in Istanbul. (AP Photo/Emrah Gurel)

The list does not include people with typical crimes such as murder or robbery. Instead, it focuses on crimes related to terrorism, religious extremism, or obscure charges such as “picking up fights and making trouble” traditionally used against political dissidents. This means: The actual number of persons imprisoned is almost certainly higher.

However, even by a conservative estimate, Konasheher County’s incarceration rate is more than 10 times that of the United States, one of the best prisons in the world, according to Justice Department statistics. Also, according to government statistics from 2013, when such figures were last published, they are 30 times higher than that of China as a whole.

Darren Byler, an expert on Xinjiang’s mass incarceration system, said: Most of the arrests were arbitrary and illegal, with people detained for having relatives abroad or for downloading certain mobile phone apps.

“It’s really remarkable,” Byler said. “Nowhere else have we seen the entire population of people identified as or seen as terrorists.”

(AP Photo/Emrah Gurel)
(AP Photo/Emrah Gurel)

In 2017, repression accelerated after a series of stabbings and bombings by a small handful of Uyghur militants. The Chinese government has argued that the mass arrests are legal and necessary to combat terrorism.

In 2019, Xinjiang authorities announced the closure of short-term detention camps, saying that everyone they described as “interns” had “graduated”. Visits by Associated Press reporters to the four former camps confirmed that the camps had been closed or converted to other facilities.

But the prisons remain. Xinjiang embarked on a wave of prison construction under the pressure, and prisons expanded even as the camps closed. At least some camps have been turned into detention centres.

Jeremy Daum, a criminal law expert at Yale University’s Paul Tsai China Center, said China is using the law as a “fig leaf of legality” to deflect international criticism of Uyghur detention.

In this photo published by Nursimangul Abdureshid, Mammal Abdureshid poses for a photo in Sayibage county in China's western Xinjiang region in September 2012.  (Nursimangul Abdureshid via AP)
In this photo published by Nursimangul Abdureshid, Mammal Abdureshid poses for a photo in Sayibage county in China’s western Xinjiang region in September 2012. (Nursimangul Abdureshid via AP)

Experts say the clandestine nature of the charges against those imprisoned is a danger sign. Although China makes legal records easily accessible, About 90% of criminal records in Xinjiang are not available to the public. Several leaked reports show that people have been accused of “terrorism” for actions such as warning their co-workers not to watch porn, swear, or pray in prison.

Uyghur exile Abduweli Ayup, who forwarded the list to the AP, closely documented the ongoing pressure on his community. But this particular list blew her mind: It included neighbors, a cousin, a high school teacher.

“I collapsed,” Ayup said. “I told other people’s stories…. And now this is my own childhood story I am telling.”

Much loved teacher Adil Tursun was the only person at Toquzaq High School who could teach Chinese to Uyghur students. He was a member of the Communist Party, and each year his students got the best grades in the town’s chemistry exams.

Uyghur couple Mihrigul Musa (left) and Abduweli Ayup posed for a photo in their garden in Bergen, Norway, on May 8, 2022.  About one in 25 people in a county in China's Uyghur heartland has been sentenced to terrorism-related prison terms.  crimes.  An Associated Press review of the leaked data shows what is the highest known incarceration rate in the world.  Ayup and Musa are friends and relatives sentenced to prison according to the list they know.  (AP Photo/Paul Johannessen)
Uyghur couple Mihrigul Musa (left) and Abduweli Ayup posed for a photo shoot in their garden in Bergen, Norway, on May 8, 2022. About one in 25 people in a county in China’s Uyghur heartland has been sentenced to terrorism-related prison terms. crimes. An Associated Press review of the leaked data shows what is the highest known incarceration rate in the world. Ayup and Musa are friends and relatives sentenced to prison according to the list they know. (AP Photo/Paul Johannessen)

Tursun and the other names on the list made no sense to Ayup, as they were considered model Uighurs.

“The names of the crimes, the spread of extremist ideas, separatism… these accusations are ridiculous,” he said.

(with information from AP)

Source: Info Bae

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