|25 April 2007|
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In its annual human rights report on China, the U.S. State Department expressed great concern over continued violations of the political, religious, and cultural rights of China’s Uighur Muslims. According to the report, Xinjiang authorities continued last year to detain and arrest persons engaged in activities considered threatening to government authority, including unauthorized religious activities, and charged them with a range of offences including state security crimes.
Chinese Muslims are subject to the same stringent registration requirements that other religious communities face; however, these regulations are enforced particularly strictly among Xinjiang’s Uighur Muslims. All mosques in China must register with the state-run China Islamic Association. Imams must be licensed by the state before they can practice, and must regularly attend patriotic education sessions. Xinjiang authorities often accuse individuals engaged in peaceful religious activity with committing the "three evils" of terrorism, separatism, and extremism.
In China, Uighur rights activists and their families can face harsh penalties. A Chinese court in Xinjiang recently sentenced Ablikim Abdiriyim to nine years in prison for allegedly "instigating and engaging in secessionist activities." Mr. Ablikim is the son of the exiled president of the World Uighur Congress, Rebiya Kadeer. Two of Ms. Kadeer's other sons were charged with tax offenses, one of whom was given a seven-year prison sentence. There are reports that Mr. Ablikim and another son were mistreated while in detention.
The United States has repeatedly raised concerns about both the charges and the lack of due process in these cases, which appear to have been initiated in retaliation for Ms. Kadeer’s political activities in the United States. We have also raised concerns over the lack of due process in the extradition, conviction, and sentencing of Huseyincan Celil, a Canadian citizen who was extradited from Uzbekistan to China in March 2006.
China shares with the international community a legitimate right, and an obligation, to combat terrorism wherever it occurs. At the same time, the Chinese government should not use the war on terrorism as a pretext for cracking down on Uighurs or anyone else engaged in peaceful political dissent. "Whenever China restrains its people’s freedoms," said Thomas Christensen, U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs, "it limits their ability to achieve their full potential." China, Mr. Christensen said, will not be considered a leader in the international arena until it develops a more open, transparent, and free society.