A Chinese court on Friday convicted a Uighur journalist of endangering national security for statements made following the 2009 Xinjiang riots [BBC backgrounder; JURIST news archive]. The Intermediate People's Court of Urumqi [CIIC backgrounder] sentenced Gheyret Niyaz, editor of uighurbiz.net [website, in Chinese] and two state-run websites, to 15 years in prison [AP report] after the one-day trial for statements he made had to foreign media after the riots. The government accused the website of helping spark the riots by posting information on ethnic violence in China unemployment and discrimination against Uighurs in Xianjiang. Niyaz did not deny writing the posts or speaking to foreign media but insisted that he did not break the law. The sentence has been described as unusually long [Reuters report] for someone not facing charges of separatism or extremism. Niyaz was detained along with a number of other Uighur publishers following the riots. On Thursday, the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) [advocacy website] called on the Chinese government to drop the charges [press release] against Niyaz, saying that he was being prosecuted for his work as a journalist.
In January, the Urumqi court sentenced four people to death [JURIST report], eight others to life in prison and one to the death penalty with a two-year reprieve, which is usually commuted to life in prison, for their roles in the riots. To date, at least 26 people have received death sentences. In November, the Chinese government carried out the executions [JURIST report] of nine others convicted in connection with the riots for murder, assault, arson and robbery, after a review by the Supreme People's Court [official website, in Chinese] upheld their sentences. The actions of the Chinese government in the aftermath of the riots were heavily criticized [JURIST report] by Human Rights Watch (HRW) [advocacy website]. HRW has stated that the trials of the suspected rioters have been marred by infringements on due process and political considerations. Additionally, HRW reported that more than 40 Uighurs had disappeared [JURIST report] while in the custody of Chinese authorities after large-scale sweeps by police. The Muslim Uighur population is opposed to China's restrictive bans [BBC report] on religious practice and says that the recent influx of Han Chinese has disenfranchised non-Chinese-speaking Uighurs. Violence broke out in July 2009 after Uighurs attacked Han Chinese during protests ignited by an attack at a factory in southern China that left two Uighurs dead.