Chinese authorities sentenced a government critic to 19 years imprisonment for daring to question the government crackdown against Uyghur Muslims in China’s largest province.
Authorities arrested Zhang Haitao, a member of China’s Han ethnic majority, for social media posts criticizing government policies concerning Uyghur Muslims, and sentenced him to jail for 19 years, according to the Associated Press. Authorities charged Zhang with subversion and espionage, but his wife, Li Aijie, told the AP that they trumped up false charges against him to discourage anyone else from questioning government security methods.
“They wanted to make an example of him, to scare anyone who might question what they do in the name of security” Li told the AP. “Even someone who knows nothing about law would know that his punishment made no sense.”
Li told the AP of her husband’s fate after arriving in the U.S. with her son earlier this week, with the help of a U.S.-based aid organization.
China turned the province of Xinjiang into a police state and claimed that Uyghur Muslims in the region were responsible for bombings, riots, and stabbings and pose the potential threat of radical Islamic terror. Authorities outlawed public prayer and beards in the region, tried to force Muslims to eat during Ramadan and has installed surveillance equipment to monitor mosque congregations in the region.
Zhang moved to Xinjiang more than 10 years ago to search for a job, and shortly thereafter began making observations on social media about what he considered to be the extreme nature of the security measures authorities enacted against local Muslims. He warned that continued oppression of the Uyghur people could lead to radicalization instead of routing it out, and called for dialogue instead.
Chinese authorities arrested Zhang in 2015 and convicted him in 2016 of having “resisted, attacked and smeared” the Communist Party and its policies via 274 social media posts he published between 2010 and 2015. The conviction earned Zhang 15 years in prison. Authorities added five more years to Zhang’s sentence for talking to foreign media and providing them with pictures and documentation of government security measures and actions against Uyghurs in Xinjiang.
Zhang is only the latest in a series of critics arrested for questioning China’s security policies concerning Uyghurs, but his arrest is unique since he is a member of China’s ethnic majority and is also not a Muslim. Wang Lixiong, another Han writer and government critic, said Zhang’s most grievous act in the eyes of the government was calling for dialogue, which he says officials saw as inexcusable defiance.
“The government removes the middle road so it leaves two extremes. You’re either their mortal enemy or their slave,” Wang told the AP.
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