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China Faces Criticism for Sentence of Uighur Journalist


A Muslim Uighur woman begs as armed Chinese paramilitary policemen march past on a street in Urumqi on the first anniversary of deadly unrest in the western Xinjiang region, 05 Jul 2010

Human rights groups strongly condemned China’s sentencing of Gheyret Niyaz, an ethnic Uighur journalist, to 15 years in prison for speaking to foreign journalists about deadly riots there a year ago.

“We are utterly astonished at the outcome of this trail,” the press-freedom group Reporters Without Borders said in a statement.

“Niyaz’s draconian prison sentence raises serious concern about authorities’ respect for freedom of expression and capacity and commitment to protect fundamental rights and freedoms,” the executive director of Human Rights Watch in China, Sharon Hom said in a written statement.

The Uyghur American Association, based in Washington, said the 15-year sentence “represents the Chinese government’s policy of no tolerance for any type of Uyghur dissent, as well as the government’s campaign to tightly control the flow of information and stem public criticism of official policy.”

Friends of Gheyret Niyaz say he was sentenced after a one-day trial in Urumqi, the regional capital. He was found guilty of "endangering national security" -- a charge that Chinese authorities often impose on people who speak to foreign media about sensitive topics.

Niyaz was an editor for the website Uighurbiz-dot-net, which reports on Uighur culture and life. After deadly riots in Xinjiang last year, the Chinese government accused Uighurbiz-dot-net of instigating violence.

Uighurs are an ethnic Turkic Muslim group linguistically and culturally distinct from Han Chinese, the country's majority ethnic group. Many Uighurs resent what they say is Beijing's heavy-handed control over Xinjiang. They also say they suffer from job discrimination and poverty.

Some information for this report was provided by AFP, NYT and Reuters

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