General News

Leaked list of those convicted of terrorism-related charges reveals magnitude of prison sentences in China’s Uyghur heart

Nearly one in 25 people in a province in the Uyghur heart of China has been sentenced to prison on terrorism-related charges, in what is the highest known prison sentence in the world, according to an Associated Press (AP) investigation of leaked data.

Most important points:

The list is the largest to date of the names of imprisoned Uyghurs. It shows that jail sentences across the country ranged from two to 25 years, with an average of nine years. Most prisoners were arrested in 2017

A list obtained and partially verified by the AP cites the names of over 10,000 Uyghurs sent to jail in the Konasheher district alone, one of the dozens in southern Xinjiang.

In recent years, China has reportedly been cracking down on Uyghurs, a largely Muslim minority, described by its leaders as their country’s “war on terror.”

The list is by far the largest of the names of imprisoned Uyghurs. It reflects the enormity of a Chinese government campaign that dragged an estimated one million or more people into internment camps and prisons.


Amid fierce international criticism, Chinese officials announced the closure in 2019 of short-term, extrajudicial internment camps to which Uyghurs were thrown without charge.

Though attention has focused on the camps, thousands of Uyghurs still languish in prison for years or even decades on what experts say are trumped-up charges of terrorism.

Konasheher County is in Kashgar Prefecture, Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, China. (AP)

The plight of Nursimangul Abdureshid’s family shows how so-called ‘students’ released from internment camps can be sent to prisons by the Chinese government.

“It’s a total lie. They’re just trying to condone their crime,” said Ms. Abdureshid, who lives in exile in Turkey.

In 2017, a relative told Ms. Abdureshid that her parents and younger brother had been taken away to study, a euphemism referring to the short-term detention camps.

It was not until three years later, in 2020, that the Chinese embassy called her to say that all three had been arrested and sentenced to more than ten years in prison.

She said the leaked list was the first outside confirmation of what had happened to her brother since that phone call.

Her brother, Memetali Abdureshid, 32, was sentenced to 15 years and 11 months on charges of “provoking quarrels and causing trouble” and “preparing terrorist activities”.

Ms. Abdureshid saw eight names she recognized on the list but not her parents.

She and six other Uyghur exiles who spoke to the AP say the list is incomplete because they didn’t see some of the people they were close to, meaning the jail time could be even higher.

The names on the list had one thing in common.

Konasheher Province is typical of rural southern Xinjiang and is home to more than 267,000 people.

The list shows that the countywide jail terms ranged from two to 25 years, with an average of nine years.

Although most people on the list were arrested in 2017, Uyghurs in exile say their sentences are so long that the vast majority would still be in prison.

Those dragged along came from all walks of life, including men, women, the young, and the elderly.

They had only one thing in common: they were all Uyghurs.

Experts said it clearly showed that people were targeted simply because they were Uyghur — a conclusion vehemently denied by Chinese authorities.

Xinjiang spokesman Elijan Anayat said the law carried out the sentences.

“We will never specifically target specific regions, ethnic groups, religions, let alone the Uyghurs,” Anayat said.

“We will never wrong the good nor release the bad.”

Xinjiang scholar Gene Bunin obtained the list from an anonymous source who described himself as a member of China’s Han Chinese majority who “opposes the policies of the Chinese government in Xinjiang”.

Abduweli Ayup, an exiled Uyghur linguist in Norway, passed it on to the AP.

The AP authenticated it through interviews with eight Uyghurs who recognized 194 people on the list, as well as legal notices, recordings of telephone conversations with Chinese officials, and checks of addresses, birthdays, and identity numbers.

Alim Osman says the Uyghur community is seeking leaked information worldwide. (ABC news: Jarrod Fankhauser)

Alim Osman, the head of the Uyghur Association of Victoria, said lists like Mr. Ayup’s were a valuable opportunity for Uyghurs worldwide to discover what happened to miss loved ones.

“The entire community here that has lost their relatives loved ones, or friends would look at the list,” he said.

He said he was not surprised by the number of people on the list.

“In Australia, we have about 3,000 Uyghur population, and each of us knows someone – from relatives, friends, classmates, or teachers – [who] disappeared,” he said.

“So this is no surprise to us.”

An entire population is ‘seen as terrorists.’

The list does not include people with typical criminal charges, such as manslaughter or theft.

Rather, it focuses on crimes related to terrorism, religious extremism, or vague indictments traditionally used against political dissidents, such as “sorting out fights and causing trouble.”

This means that the actual number of people imprisoned is almost certainly higher.

But even by a conservative estimate, Konasheher’s prison sentence rate is more than ten times higher than that of the United States, one of the world’s largest jailers, according to US Justice Department statistics.

It is also more than 30 times higher than for China as a whole, according to 2013 state statistics, the last time such figures were released.

Darren Byler — an expert on Xinjiang’s mass incarceration system — said most of the arrests were arbitrary and out of the law, detaining people for having relatives abroad or downloading certain cell phone applications.

“It’s remarkable,” said Mr. Byler.

“In no other location have we seen entire populations as terrorists or seen as terrorists.”

Detention centers in China’s Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region hold tens of thousands of prisoners. (AP: Mark Schiefelbein)

China’s action kicked into high gear in 2017 following a series of stabbings and bombings by Uyghur militants.

The Chinese government has defended the mass detentions as legal and necessary to fight terrorism.

In December 2019, Xinjiang officials said all of them had “graduated” as “trainees” in the “centers”.

Visits by Associated Press reporters to four former campgrounds confirm that they were closed or converted to other facilities.

But even as the camps closed, the prisons grew.

At least a few campgrounds were converted into incarceration centers.

‘These charges are absurd.’

China is using the law “like a fig leaf of legality,” in part to try to fend off international criticism of the detention of Uyghurs, said Jeremy Daum, a criminal justice expert at Yale University’s Paul Tsai China Center.

Experts say the secretive nature of the charges against the detainees is a red flag.

While China makes legal documents easily accessible in another way, nearly 90 percent of Xinjiang’s criminal records are not public.

The leaked handful shows that people are being accused of “terrorism” for acts such as warning colleagues against watching porn and swearing or praying in prison.

Mr. Ayup, the Uyghur exile who forwarded the list to the AP, has carefully documented the ongoing repression of his community.

But this list especially hurt him: there were neighbors, a cousin, and a high school teacher.

‘I had collapsed,’ said Mr. Ayup. “I had told other people’s stories… and now I’m telling my own story from my childhood.”

A teacher, Adil Tursun, was a member of the Communist Party, and every year his students had the best chemistry test scores in his city.

The names of Mr. Tursun and others on the list did not match Mr. Ayup because they were considered model Uyghurs.

“The names of the crimes, spreading extremist thoughts, separatism…these allegations are absurd,” he said.


Dorothy R. Barrett

I’m a full-time blogger by passion. This is my first blog, and I'm excited to share everything that I love about technology, business, and lifestyle with you. I’m a writer by trade, and I can be found writing about tech, business, and lifestyle on my personal blog.

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