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08-04-06, 03:33
Uyghur sentenced to death on political charges in East Turkistan

For immediate release
April 7, 2006, 20:00 EST
Contact: Uyghur Human Rights Project – 1 (202) 349 1496

(April 7, 2006, Washington, DC.) Ismail Semed, a Uyghur who is known to
have been politically active in support of Uyghurs’ human rights, has
been sentenced to death following deportation from Pakistan to East
Turkistan (Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region) in the People’s Republic
of China (PRC).

It is not yet certain whether Semed has been executed or not, although
UHRP has received unconfirmed reports of his statutory appeal being
held in a closed session. If his appeal is rejected, execution would
typically follow soon after the hearing is concluded.

Semed was originally sentenced to death on October 31, 2005 by Urumchi
City Intermediate People’s Court on charges of ‘attempting to split the
motherland’ and other charges relating to possession of fire-arms and
explosives.

According to his sentencing document seen by UHRP, the only evidence
against Ismail Semed with regard to the charges of possession of
fire-arms and explosives, is the testimony of several other Uyghurs. At
least two of those Uyghurs, Osman Hamit and Memet Rahmat, were
themselves executed by the Chinese government in 1999 according to
UHRP’s sources. UHRP is concerned that their testimonies may have been
extorted through torture.

The charge of ‘attempting to split the motherland’ is based on the
allegation that Semed is a founding member of the East Turkistan
Islamic Movement (ETIM), a group which was listed with the UN as a
terrorist organization in September 2002 by the United States with the
support of China and several Central Asian states. This charge appears
to be based solely on second-hand testimony that Semed was present at a
meeting of ETIM in March 1997 in Rawalpindi, Pakistan.

However, Radio Free Asia (RFA) report sources stating that other people
who were at the meeting in Rawalpindi do not even know Ismail Semed.

According to the same official document seen by UHRP, Semed himself
supposedly ‘confessed’ to the charges against him during
interrogations, but he then denied the charges in court; even his
state-appointed defense lawyer contested that all of the evidence
against Semed was in the form of testimonies and was therefore
inconclusive. Nevertheless, the court maintained that there was “ample
evidence” to convict Semed, and passed the death sentence.

“Ismail Semed has been tried and sentenced to death in the absence of
even the most basic international fair trial standards,” said a
spokesperson for UHRP. “Furthermore, there are grave concerns that the
testimonies used as evidence to convict Semed are not only inadequate
in terms of standards of evidence, but were extorted from witnesses
through torture.”

Ismail Semed is thought to have had a history of active opposition to
the policies and practices of the Chinese administration in East
Turkistan. In the early- to mid-1990s he served two prison sentences
for participating in demonstrations, including one in Baren in 1990
outside the western historic city of Kashgar. The events at Baren are
commonly described as a Uyghur nationalist uprising against Chinese
rule of East Turkistan, an uprising which was put down when police
opened fire on demonstrators and rioters killing an unknown number of
people.

Semed reportedly fled East Turkistan for Pakistan soon after another
demonstration in the north-western city of Ghulja in February 1997,
where police opened fire on demonstrators possibly killing as many as
100 people at the scene according to some accounts, and dozens more in
disturbances over the following days.

News of Semed’s sentence comes as fears are being expressed for the
fate of another Uyghur, Huseyincan Celil, who is at extreme risk of
being sent from incommunicado detention in Uzbekistan to the PRC –
where he is also under sentence of death having been sentenced in
absentia – despite being a naturalized Canadian citizen.

The death sentence imposed on Ismael Samed is a further indication of
the dangers facing Uyghurs who flee into countries neighboring East
Turkistan. In 2003, he was deported from Pakistan to the PRC. Amnesty
International has documented numerous cases of Uyghurs being forcibly
returned to the PRC from various neighboring states – including
Pakistan – where they are then extremely vulnerable to torture and
other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment.

In one case, Shaheer Ali was executed in March 2003 following
deportation back to the PRC in 2002, in that instance from the Kingdom
of Nepal which has close diplomatic relations with the PRC. Like Semed,
Ali also had a history of political opposition to Chinese rule in East
Turkistan, and he had also been imprisoned on a previous occasion.


Background information

The Chinese authorities allege that ETIM has been responsible for
numerous terrorist attacks against mainly Chinese targets in East
Turkistan in the past decade or so, but has never produced any
independently verifiable evidence to support this allegation. The
United States government has asserted that ETIM planned – but never
carried out – an attack on the US embassy in Kazakhstan.

The Chinese authorities in East Turkistan are extremely wary of any
form of political opposition by Uyghurs, and are quick to brand any
opposition – perceived or real – as an extremely serious crime.

Even prior to the events of 9/11, the PRC led regional tendencies
throughout Central Asia to regard political opposition and
‘uncontrolled’ politicized Islam as the “three evil forces” of
terrorism, separatism, and religious extremism. Uyghurs in East
Turkistan and beyond are regarded as the main focus of these
Chinese-led regional strategies to quell and suppress any sign of
Uyghur political organization.

Post 9/11, the Chinese authorities have used the “war on terror” as a
pretext to further increase the pressure on Uyghurs in East Turkistan
and throughout the Central Asian region, including Pakistan.


Chinese legal background

Although Chinese law forbids convictions based only a defendant’s
confession – a relatively recent measure to try and reduce convictions
based on confessions extorted through torture – a great deal or weight
is still attributed to other witness testimonies and ‘confessions’.

This feature of the Chinese judicial system was recently criticized by
the UN Special Rapporteur on torture who stated following a mission to
the PRC – which included prison visits in East Turkistan – that torture
remains “widespread”.

UHRP stresses there is no available evidence that torture was used in
this case – or any of the associated cases – but the organization is
acutely aware that torture is an extremely prominent feature of most
Uyghurs’ experiences at the hands of the Chinese police and judiciary
in East Turkistan.

As stated above, Semed was sentenced to death on October 31, 2005, by
Urumchi City Intermediate People’s Court. His statutory appeal will be
heard at a level of court, in this case the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous
Region High People’s Court – also in Urumchi.

Unlike the vast majority of death sentences passed in the PRC every
year, the political nature of the charges against Ismail Semed would
require the case and the sentence to be reviewed by the Supreme
People’s Court in Beijing. Currently, around 90% of death sentences
for most categories of crime in the PRC are reviewed and approved by
the same court that passes them.

However, the Supreme People’s Court review is basically an
administrative procedure only, and no further evidence or arguments are
taken into account.

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The Uyghur American Association (UAA) works to promote the preservation
and flourishing of a rich, humanistic and diverse Uyghur culture, and
to support the right of the Uyghur people to use peaceful, democratic
means to determine their own political future.

The UAA has undertaken the Uyghur Human Rights Project for the purpose
of promoting improved human rights conditions for Uyghurs and other
indigenous groups in East Turkistan, on the premise that the assurance
of basic human rights will facilitate the realization of the
community’s democratic aspirations.