Thursday, February 26, 2009

For 20 at Guantánamo, Court Victories Fall Short

For 20 at Guantánamo, Court Victories Fall Short
Brennan Linsley/Associated Press

Twenty men held at Guantánamo Bay despite favorable habeas corpus rulings are appealing to President Obama for help.

Published: February 25, 2009

Since the Supreme Court’s landmark ruling in June giving Guantánamo detainees a constitutional right to have federal judges review their imprisonment, 23 of the men have been declared in court not to be enemies of the United States.

But 20 of those 23 remain at the United States naval base in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, caught in a strange limbo of exonerated men living behind barbed wire. Their lawyers are now appealing directly to President Obama, arguing that the federal habeas corpus cases allowed by the Supreme Court decision are failing to deliver the only justice that matters: freedom.

“These are innocent men, held in a prison that has become a national shame,” the lawyers say in a letter to President Obama they are to release at a Washington news conference on Thursday. They ask that the president “restore liberty to these men” by sending them home, finding another country where they are willing to go, or permitting them into the United States.

Although most of the men are held in conditions less restrictive than Guantánamo’s maximum-security cells, they remain prisoners subject to military rules and, some of the lawyers claim, abusive conditions. One of them is Lakhdar Boumediene, an Algerian who once lived in Bosnia, for whom the Supreme Court’s June ruling was named.

Stephen H. Oleskey, one of his lawyers, said Mr. Boumediene and another Algerian who was also ordered freed by a judge in November see their legal victory as hollow. “It’s very hard to explain how they could be free men and still be imprisoned,” Mr. Oleskey said.

A Justice Department spokesman, Dean Boyd, said officials were “taking all necessary and appropriate steps” to transfer the two Algerians and were “actively seeking the resettlement” of 17 others, Muslim Uighurs from China. He said the government was considering whether to appeal a judge’s January ruling in the case of the 20th detainee, a former resident of Saudi Arabia who was first detained when he was 14.

Some legal experts say the cases of the 20 men pose an extraordinary challenge for the courts, which are generally able to ensure that prisoners who should not be held can be released. But government officials say arranging the transfers of Guantánamo detainees to other countries involves a complicated negotiation through a minefield of international sensitivities.

The Bush administration refused to admit any of the former Guantánamo detainees into the United States. The Obama administration has not yet made its position clear.

Samuel Issacharoff, a professor at New York University Law School, said the standoff showed the limitations of the legal system in dealing with the prison set up seven years ago on the naval base in Cuba, partly to be remain clear of American courts.

“The Bush administration chose the path of holding people beyond the reach of the law,” Professor Issacharoff said. “The Obama administration is learning it is difficult to unwind those practices.” Habeas corpus cases, he said, are hampered because there are no clear rules about how to deal with prisoners who cannot simply be set free outside the jailhouse doors.

The detainees’ lawyers assert that at least 2 of the 20 men have been physically abused in recent weeks. A spokeswoman for the prison, Cmdr. Pauline Storum, said there had been no substantiated claims of abuse in recent weeks.

In a news conference in Washington, Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. said that in a visit to Guantánamo on Monday he noted a “very conscious attempt” by guards to “conduct themselves in an appropriate way.”

The 17 Uighurs have been described as terrorists by the Chinese government, which has a history of repressive measures in dealing with its Muslim minority. Last week, a federal appeals court overturned a district judge’s order that would have freed the men in the United States, saying the judge was assuming powers reserved to the president and Congress.

But that decision left in place the Bush administration’s concession that the men are not enemy combatants, the classification the government used to detain men at Guantánamo.

Bush administration officials said for years that they could not return the Uighurs to China for fear of mistreatment or torture. They also said efforts to find a new home for the 17 men had failed after talks with more than 100 countries.


Wednesday, February 25, 2009

On "Free the Uyghurs"

On "Free the Uyghurs"

By James Millward

I never thought I’d see “Free the Uighurs” on the editorial pages of major U.S. newspapers, but there it was last Thursday in the Washington Post (Editorial, February 19, 2009, p. A14) and Monday in the Los Angeles Times (Editorial, Feb. 23, 2009). Of course, the editorial was not discussing Uyghurs in China, but the seventeen Uyghur detainees at Guantanamo, whom a federal appeals court ruled could be brought to the U.S. only by an act of the executive branch, not the courts. The Post urged the Obama administration to do the right thing by these men, whom the Bush administration acknowledged years ago were not “enemy combatants” but whom it could neither send back to China nor find a third country willing to take.

It was not that long ago that references to Uyghurs hardly ever appeared in the international press. From the late 1980s through the late 1990s there were occasional stories, when reporters given rare opportunities to travel to Xinjiang sought out silk road exotica and separatism—story lines they seem to have settled on before their trip. It was not hard to flesh out the template with colorful minority clothing, mutton kabobs and some young guy in the bazaar complaining about the Chinese. The rare actual violent incidents were exciting—they fit the imagined narrative that Xinjiang was a “simmering cauldron” or “powder-keg waiting to blow.” But they were harder to write about, as information was scant and mainly filtered through PRC state media, which was then intent on minimizing any local unrest or dissent. Internally, in the late 1990s Xinjiang Party officials still worried about the Xinjiang issue becoming “internationalized”—in other words, emerging, like Tibet, as a global cause célèbre.

After September 11th, 2001, China abruptly reversed course, deliberately publicizing the issue of Uyghur dissent as “terrorism, separatism and religious extremism,” and explicitly linking potential unrest in Xinjiang (the region was in fact quiet from 1997 through 2008) to Al Qaeda and the U.S. “global war on terror.” This linkage was accomplished through a document issued in English by the State Council in January 2002, official press reports, and print and broadcast interviews with Chinese leaders. The message was much reiterated in subsequent years; state media and PRC leaders proclaimed Uyghurs to be the main potential security risk to the 2008 Olympics (in the spring before and during the Olympics, there were in fact three incidents of what seems to have been politically-inspired violence involving Uyghurs in Xinjiang.)

The U.S. government, international media and anti-terrorism think-tanks contributed to the re-branding of Uyghur dissent as a “movement” motivated by Islamist thinking and linked to “international terror organizations.” Stereotyped notions about Islam and a paucity of solid firsthand information about Xinjiang made plausible the idea that Al Qaeda-type Uyghur jihadis were “waging” a “militant” “resistance” against Chinese authorities, even in absence of anything like a terrorist attack for over a decade. Because every “movement” needs an acronym, concerns crystallized around ETIM (East Turkestan Islamic Movement), one of several groups mentioned in the Chinese State Council document. The U.S. listed ETIM as an international terrorist organization in 2002 and mistakenly attributed to it all the violent acts reported by the PRC as having occurred in Xinjiang for the ten years prior to 1997, though Chinese sources themselves up to that point had not attributed any specific acts to ETIM (they did so subsequently). The U.S. thus made ETIM the name to conjure with.[1]

Now the “Uyghur issue” is well and truly internationalized, thanks to U.S. and Chinese policies and rhetoric over the past several years. Indeed, at the moment it stands at the crux of U.S.-Chinese relations. In order to close down Guantanamo prison, as President Obama has pledged, detainees who cannot be repatriated must be resettled elsewhere. In order to convince third countries to accept Guantanamo detainees, the U.S. must first show willingness to resettle some itself. Politically, the Uyghurs are the easiest choice among the detainees for U.S. asylum: they were determined by the Bush administration to harbor “no animus” towards the United States; there is a measure of Congressional support for their resettlement thanks in part to effective lobbying efforts by the Uyghur America Association (itself funded by the U.S. government through the National Endowment for Democracy); and the Uyghur community here is eager to help in the detainees’ transition.

Of course, the PRC government strongly opposes resettling Uyghurs from Guantanamo in the U.S. or anywhere else, and wants them sent back to China. As Li Wei, from the China Institute of Contemporary International Relations, put it in an interview with NPR’s Anthony Kuhn (Morning Edition, Feb. 20, 2009), “what would the American government think if China sheltered people who threatened America's national security?” Li makes a reasonable point: if China publicly resettled Al Qaeda trainees from Afghan camps, the U.S. would take this as a major affront.

So now, with the Obama-era U.S.-China relationship still unformed, an act critical to realizing the president’s promise to shut down Guantanamo will also, like it or not, be seen as his major first act related to China: granting asylum to a group of men China has repeatedly and publicly denounced as violent terrorist members of ETIM. The Chinese public and most Chinese academics, party-members and officials sincerely believe Uyghur terrorists pose a grave security threat to China. ETIM is their Al Qaeda.

Moreover, despite the fact that no country and no serious scholar disputes the legality of China’s sovereignty in Xinjiang, some Chinese believe the U.S. supports and foments Uyghur terrorism in order to destabilize China. American academics who write about Xinjiang have been (falsely) accused in Chinese publications of working with the U.S. government to provide “a theoretical basis for one day taking action to dismember China and separate Xinjiang” (Pan Zhiping, in his introduction to the internal Chinese translation of Frederick Starr, ed. Xinjiang: China's Muslim Frontier). We should not underestimate the perception gap between the U.S. and China over Xinjiang and the Uyghurs. In China, the issue is as radioactive as the sands of Lop Nor.

Thus, while the U.S. press has discussed the Guantanamo Uyghurs mainly as a domestic U.S. political and legal issue, their fate could have a great impact on U.S.-China relations at this critical time. The legacy of the Bush administration’s China policy is often treated as broadly positive, thanks to the role played by Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson and resultant stress on economic affairs. However, the Guantanamo Uyghurs are another huge mess Bush got us into. Thanks to Bush-era mistakes and the fuzzy but dangerous notion of “global war on terror,” the Obama administration faces yet another potential crisis—one in U.S.-China relations—right off the bat.

The U.S. should recognize that while resettling the seventeen Uyghurs here may be the only way to break the Guantanamo log-jam, to do so will mean asking China to swallow something extremely unpalatable. If a blow-up in U.S.-China relations can be averted, it will be because American diplomats handle the issue with the extreme sensitivity it merits, and because China chooses to overlook U.S. hypocrisy and place the greater interests of good Sino-U.S. ties over their entrenched rhetorical position on Xinjiang. In so doing they will help us put yet another Bush-era disaster behind us and move on.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

A Reassessment of Canada’s Interests in China and Options for Renewal of Canada’s China Policy

A Reassessment of Canada’s Interests in China and Options for Renewal of Canada’s China Policy

Charles Burton

Executive Summary

* Because Canada is continuing to lose market share in China, the Government of Canada should clearly articulate its strategy for improving and promoting access to the Chinese market for Canadian business. This strategy should be focused on the distinctive characteristics of the Chinese market and business culture, and Canada’s comparative advantage in that market vis-à-vis our competitors. Trade officials should be deployed with much better pro-active coordination between the Federal Trade Commissioners Service, provincial government trade promotions agencies, the Export Development Corporation and the Canada-China Business Council.
* The Government of Canada should phase out the CIDA program in China. Instead, Canada should engage in good governance, democratic development and human rights programming in China through the arms-length Canada Foundation for Democracy proposed by the Commons Foreign Affairs Committee. Stakeholder groups in Canada based on ethnic ties to China or with mandates to promote human rights in China should be better deployed to collaborate with Government to achieve the aims of the Canada Foundation for Democracy in its China programming. In addition, the Canadian Government and private sector should jointly engage in environmental sustainability programming though the Trade Section of the Canadian Embassy to China.
* The Government should reform its human resources procedures to ensure assignment of personnel with the requisite qualifications to undertake China-related positions. The effectiveness of the divisions of DFAIT, CSIS and DND responsible for Canada’s relations with China is severely inhibited due to allocation of personnel without China-specific expertise to positions that demand this expertise. This demands requiring that civil servants assigned to certain China-related positions demonstrate appropriate Chinese language skills as measured by standardized Chinese language testing as a prerequisite to deployment. Personnel who have acquired Chinaspecific expertise should be significantly rewarded through an incentives scheme designed to encourage Canadian civil servants to undertake careers with a sustained China focus.
* The Government of Canada should diversify its engagement of China. Canada should be directly engaging policymakers in the Chinese Government and Communist Party whose decisions have implications for Canada’s interests in China on an ongoing basis. The current focus on the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation offices of Chinese line ministries should be expanded to a more comprehensive engagement of policymaking and decision making agencies in the Chinese system.
* Reporting on China by DFAIT and the Intelligence Assessment Staff of the Privy Council Office as well as the Communications Security Establishment Canada and the Canadian Security and Intelligence Service should be refocused away from general assessments of Chinese affairs and should instead focus reporting on practical matters directly related to Canada’s interests. The relevance to Canada and quality of these reports should be subject to periodic external review to ensure that they are fulfilling the strategic mandate of these agencies.
* The Government of Canada should pursue engagement of Chinese ministries on an ongoing basis at Director-General to Director-General and Assistant Deputy Minister to Assistant Deputy Minister level. “Strategic Partnership” at the Deputy-Minister level is not feasible due to economic asymmetry between Canada and China. Due to power asymmetry between Canada and China, high-level Canadian Government engagement of the Government of China on political and social issues through “quiet diplomacy” such as the Canada-China Bilateral Human Rights Dialogue has not proven effective. While it is certainly in the Canadian interest to raise human rights concerns in all Canadian Government interactions with Chinese leaders, more focused and targeted programming to encourage enhanced Chinese compliance with its commitments to the UN Human Rights Covenants should replace the previous moribund Human Rights Dialogue approach.
* The Government of Canada should strengthen the China-specific expertise of CSIS counter-espionage officers. Canada should also be more proactive in responding to Canadians of Chinese origin, and to Chinese nationals A Reassessment of Canada’s Interests in China and Options for Renewal of Canada’s China Policy temporarily resident in Canada, including ethnic Tibetans, Uyghurs and Mongolians who complain of harassment and intimidation by Chinese security agents and Chinese diplomats in Canada.
* The Government of Canada should solicit Tibetan, Uyghur and Mongolian diaspora communities’ views, as well the views of their co-nationals still living in China, on the design and implications of Canadian Government supported programming in their native lands. This consultation will better ensure that the Government is fully attuned to ethnic sensitivities in its China-focused programming. Such consultation would not imply that the Government of Canada endorses Tibetan, Uyghur and Mongolian independentist claims to rightful sovereignty over these territories, nor that the Canadian Government intends to challenge the legitimacy of Chinese rule in these areas.
* The proportion of Chinese citizens working as support staff in the Consular sections of the Canadian Embassy and Consulates in China should be reduced. There should be corresponding augmentation of numbers of Canadabased staff with Chinese language skills and knowledge of Chinese police, prison, security agencies and the related Chinese Communist Party institutions.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Church groups offer to sponsor detainees from Guantanamo Bay

Church groups offer to sponsor detainees from Guantanamo Bay

Feb 11, 2009 04:30 AM

Joanna Smith

OTTAWA – The Canadian Council for Refugees is demanding the federal government give sanctuary to five detainees from the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay who do not face charges but could be in danger if returned home.

One of them is Maassoum Abdah Mouhammad, a Syrian Kurd who is being sponsored by a Toronto church group committed to meeting his financial and emotional needs should he be resettled in Canada.

"We do believe he faces serious risk if returned to his country and we hope we can be part of an effort to offer him hospitality and home in Canada," said Sonya Wu-Winter, a member of the congregation at Trinity St. Paul's United Church in the Bloor St. W. and Spadina Ave. area. "As a community of faith, we believe that this is part of our calling to work for justice and healing in the world."

His application for refugee status was submitted yesterday.

The other detainees include three men from the Uyghur Muslim minority in northwest China: Anwar Hassan, sponsored by a group of churches in Toronto, and two unnamed men sponsored by the Catholic Diocese of Montreal.

China has demanded no country accept any of the 17 Uyghurs who remain at Guantanamo because it deems them to be members of a terrorist organization.

Diplomatic threats from China are believed to have played a role in Canada ending negotiations to accept some of the Uyghurs in 2006 around the same time China detained Canadian Huseyin Celil.

The Anglican Diocese of Montreal is sponsoring Djamel Ameziane, an Algerian alleged to have conspired with Al Qaeda, and viewed as one of the reasons Canada could move slowly on this file.

"Immigration officials have the authority to reject sponsorship applications from individuals who threaten our national security or who are involved with terrorist groups," Alykhan Velshi, spokesperson for Immigration Minister Jason Kenney, wrote in an email yesterday.

He added he hoped the refugee council and other groups would "keep that in mind" when choosing who to sponsor.

Meanwhile, lawyers for Toronto-born detainee Omar Khadr said he would be willing to face prosecution in Canada and undergo a period of transition away from his family under the guidance of an expert team if the U.S. sent him home, The Canadian Press reported.


Tuesday, February 10, 2009

China defends human rights record at UN review

China defends human rights record at UN review
Last Updated: Monday, February 9, 2009 | 2:21 PM ET Comments118Recommend30
CBC News

Chinese officials assured the United Nations they are committed to the protection of human rights Monday, a claim challenged by a handful of Western nations.

China is in the spotlight in Geneva as the UN Human Rights Council launched its review of the communist country's human rights record. The 47-member council examines the human rights record of each UN member nation once every four years.

"China is fully committed to the promotion and protection of human rights," China's ambassador to the UN and delegation head, Li Baodong, told the council.

Li said the government opposes torture and would never allow it to be used against ethnic or religious minorities, a charge levelled by human rights groups against Beijing.

"At this moment, about 50 governmental agencies are working on a human rights action plan … which would soon be made public," said Li. "It is the first of its kind in China and will set targets for all departments, in a major move to advance human rights protection in China."

China also dismissed allegations of repression of Tibetans and Uighur Muslims in Xinjiang.

Beijing allows regional autonomy in areas with significant proportions of ethnic minorities, said a member of the Chinese delegation, who stressed "there is no ethnic conflict" in China.

"Regrettably, a few people with external forces try to split Tibet and Xinjiang. They by no means represent Tibetans and Uighurs.

"[Tibet and Xinjiang] are inseparable parts of China," he added.

Groups such as New York-based Human Rights Watch say they have extensively documented cases of abuse in the Tibet autonomous region and elsewhere.

China won praise and support from council members Iran, Cuba, Egypt, Myanmar, Zimbabwe and Sudan, said Reuters. Egypt and Zimbabwe hailed Beijing for protecting human rights, while Pakistan and Sri Lanka called Tibet an "inalienable" part of China.
Canada challenges Chinese record

Several Western countries, including Canada, questioned allegations of religious and ethnic persecution in China. Italy and Austria took China to task over the death penalty.

"Canada is deeply concerned about reports of arbitrary detention of ethnic minority members, including Tibetans, Uighurs and Mongols, as well as religious believers, including Falun Gong practitioners, without information about their charges, their location and well-being," said Louis-Martin Aumais, Canada's representative at the hearings.

Canada also urged China not to use statements obtained under torture and to end its practice of deporting North Korean asylum seekers.

Created in 2006, the Human Rights Council replaced the world body's Human Rights Commission, which came under fire for including notorious rights abusers among its membership.

The 47 members of the council were elected by the UN General Assembly. The United States declined to stand for membership, while others such as Sudan, Venezuela and Iran failed to win a seat.

Cuba, Saudi Arabia, Russia, Pakistan and China were elected to the council despite objections.

Uyghur Historian Released From Prison

Uyghur Historian Released From Prison

Uyghur historian Tohti Tunyaz completed his 11-year sentence for "inciting splittism" and "unlawfully obtaining state secrets" on February 10, 2009, according to information accessible to the public in the Congressional-Executive Commission on China (CECC) Political Prisoner Database, and he has since been released from prison, according to February 10 reports from the Sankei and Mainichi (via Yahoo) newspapers, based on information from sources close to the case. According to the reports, after being met by his sister at the prison in Urumqi, Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR), Tohti Tunyaz traveled to a relative's home. The Sankei report said it is unclear whether Tohti Tunyaz will be allowed to return to Japan, where he had previously lived. According to the Mainichi report, his wife and two children reside in Japan.

As noted in the CECC Political Prisoner Database, on February 11, 1998, Chinese authorities detained Tohti Tunyaz, an ethnic Uyghur citizen of China based at Tokyo University in Japan, while he was visiting the XUAR to conduct research on Uyghur history. On March 10, 1999, the Urumqi Intermediate People's Court sentenced him to 11 years’ imprisonment for "inciting splittism" and "unlawfully supplying state secrets to entities outside China," crimes under Articles 103 and 111 of the Criminal Law. On February 15, 2000, the Xinjiang High People's Court rejected his appeal, but it changed the charge of "unlawfully supplying state secrets" to foreign entities to the charge of "unlawfully obtaining state secrets," a crime under Article 282 of the Criminal Law. Sources close to the case said the alleged "state secrets" were a list of documents from an official librarian and sources said that Tohti Tunyaz had not published a separatist book, though the trial court alleged he had. On May 17, 2001, the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention found his imprisonment to be arbitrary and in violation of his right to freedom of thought, expression, and opinion (decision via University of Minnesota Human Rights Library). Tohti Tunyaz served his sentence in the Xinjiang Number 3 Prison in Urumqi.

Authorities in the XUAR continue to hold other Uyghurs in detention for exercising their right to free expression, based on information accessible to the public in the CECC Political Prisoner Database. Cases include:

* Miradil Yasin and Mutellip Téyip. Xinjiang University (XU) security staff detained Miradil (Mir'adil) Yasin and Mutellip Téyip on December 20, 2008, for distributing leaflets on campus calling on students to hold a demonstration. XU staff notified public security offices, which took the two young men into detention.

* Mehbube Ablesh. An employee in the advertising department at the Xinjiang People's Radio Station, Mehbube Ablesh was fired from her job in August 2008 and detained in apparent connection to her writings for the Internet that were critical of government policies, including "bilingual" education.

* Nurmemet Yasin. A XUAR court sentenced writer Nurmemet (Nurmuhemmet) Yasin to 10 years in prison in 2005 for "inciting splittism'' after he wrote a story about a caged bird who commits suicide rather than live without freedom. Korash Huseyin, chief editor of the journal that published Nurmemet Yasin's story, received a three-year sentence in 2005 for "dereliction of duty." Korash Huseyin completed his sentence in February 2008 and is presumed to have been released from prison.

* Abdulla Jamal. Authorities arrested teacher Abdulla Jamal in April 2005, after he submitted for publication a manuscript that authorities claimed incited separatism. The arrest followed his detention a month earlier, along with the detention of 3 other teachers and 17 or 18 students, ostensibly for involvement in a fight between ethnic Uyghur and Han Chinese students.

* Abdulghani Memetemin. A XUAR court sentenced journalist Abdulghani Memetemin to nine years' imprisonment in 2003 for providing information on government repression against Uyghurs to an overseas organization that reports on human rights abuses in the XUAR. Authorities characterized this act as "supplying state secrets to an organization outside the country."

The CECC reported in its 2008 Annual Report that repression in the XUAR increased in 2008 amid preparations for the 2008 Beijing Summer Olympic Games, limited official reports of terrorist activity, and protests among Uyghurs and Tibetans in China. Authorities implemented harsh security measures, especially among the ethnic Uyghur population, including wide-scale detentions, inspections of households, restrictions on Uyghurs' domestic and international travel, restrictions on peaceful protest, and increased controls over religious activity and religious practitioners. The government also continued to strengthen policies aimed at diluting Uyghur ethnic identity and promoting assimilation. Since publishing its 2008 Annual Report, the CECC has observed a continuation of harsh security measures and policies that place assimilation pressures on ethnic minorities.

For additional information about conditions in the XUAR, see the CECC 2008 Annual Report.

Chinese authorities offer a jailed Uyghur scholar and his wife jobs if they will stay in China.

Jailed Uyghur Scholar Offered Job

Chinese authorities offer a jailed Uyghur scholar and his wife jobs if they will stay in China.

Courtesy of Rabiye Tohti

Undated photo of Tohti Tunyaz.

HONG KONG—The Japan-based wife of an ethnic Uyghur researcher thought to have been freed Tuesday after serving 11 years in prison says that Chinese authorities offered her and her husband well-paying jobs to remain in China.

Rabiye Tohti, 45 and a naturalized Japanese citizen, said in an interview that several of her husband’s professors and a number of journalists had travelled from Japan to Prison No. 3 in Urumqi, in China’s northwesternmost province of Xinjiang, to greet Tohti Tunyaz upon his release on Feb. 10.

“They waited all night but when they went to ask where he was, the authorities said he had already left,” Tohti said. She hadn’t yet spoken with him, she said.

“Even if he has been freed, he’s not totally free. He cannot go anywhere he wants. He might be forced to praise the government and the [Communist] party,” she said.

“Three months ago, the authorities asked me many times to come back from Japan. They promised a well-paying job to my husband. They told me they would give me a well-paying job too. ‘Your life in Japan is very difficult—you should come back,’ they said. ‘If you come back you will have a very good life—you will be with your relatives and have a very good life.’”

Scholar of Uyghur culture

Tunyaz, 49, was born in Bay county of Aksu prefecture, in the southern part of the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region. He graduated from university in Beijing and went on to pursue a doctorate in Uyghur culture at Tokyo University.

Chinese authorities arrested him in 1998 after he copied a list of historical documents at a public records office in Xinjiang. He was handed an 11-year jail term for allegedly endangering state security.

Tohti, who obtained Japanese citizenship last week, said she had sought permission to bring her husband to Japan for medical treatment, citing a foot injury resulting from a car accident. She said she had travelled to Urumqi twice to see her husband in 1998 but wasn’t allowed to visit him.

Prison officials, contacted by telephone during and after working hours, declined to comment.

The Yomiuri Shimbun newspaper quoted a spokesman for Tokyo University as saying, “If he's willing to return to his studies, the door's open."

The spokesman said the university renews Tunyaz's temporary leave status every year, and a new instructor was assigned for him after his previous teacher retired.

Uyghurs, who are mostly Muslim, constitute a distinct ethnic minority in Xinjiang. Chinese authorities have accused some Uyghurs of conducting terrorist violence in recent years.

In its 2008 annual report, the Congressional Executive Commission on China reported that "human rights abuses in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region remain severe, and repression increased in the past year... [The] government uses anti-terrorism campaigns as a pretext for enforcing repressive security measures and for controlling expressions of religious and ethnic identity...."

In 2007, it said, the head of the Xinjiang High People’s Court said that the region bears an ‘‘extremely strenuous’’ caseload for crimes involving endangering state security. Chinese media reported that courts in the region would ‘‘regard ensuring [state] security and social stability [as] their primary task."

Original reporting by Akida for RFA’s Uyghur service. Translated by Uyghur service director Dolkun Kamberi. Written and produced in English by Sarah Jackson-Han.