BEIJING — A Chinese court sentenced a Uighur journalist to 15 years in jail yesterday for critical writings and comments he made to foreign media after last year’s deadly ethnic riots in China’s western Xinjiang region, a friend said.
Halaite Niyaze was found guilty of “endangering national security’’ and sentenced following a one-day trial in Urumqi, the capital of Xinjiang, said Ilham Tohti, an economist based in Beijing who is a friend of Niyaze. A man surnamed Wen who answered the phone at the Urumqi Intermediate People’s Court’s criminal affairs department confirmed that Niyaze stood trial but said he could not confirm the verdict.
Longstanding tensions between Xinjiang’s Uighurs, a largely Muslim ethnic group, and China’s Han Chinese majority flared into open violence in Urumqi in July 2009. The government — which accused overseas Uighur groups of plotting the violence, something they deny — said 197 people were killed.
Hundreds of people were arrested, about two dozen were sentenced to death and many Uighurs remain unaccounted for and are believed to be in custody.
Niyaze’s 15-year sentence is among the harshest handed down for someone who committed no violence during last year’s riots or for a Uighur airing dissenting opinions in recent years. Endangering state security is a vaguely worded charge that China’s authoritarian government often uses to silence political critics.