Mamatali Kashgarli’s ‘terrorism’ conviction had been overturned in a rare review by a higher court.
Authorities in China’s Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR) have upheld a 15-year jail term for an ethnic Uyghur Turkish national convicted of “terrorist activities” following a secret prison retrial, according to sources, who say little is known about his well-being despite repeated inquiries from Ankara.1c
Both Mamatali and Abdujelil were reportedly accused at least in part on the basis of Mamatali’s links to his brother Ahmet Kashgarli, who lives in Turkey, and who was referred to as a “terrorist” by court authorities.
The source, who spoke on condition of anonymity out of fear of reprisal, told RFA that Mamatali appeared “very emotionally and physically weak,” and even unable to understand the questions being posed to him during the proceedings, which were held after an earlier conviction for the same alleged offense was ruled improper in a rare reversal by a higher court.
Mamatali had relocated to Turkey from Kashgar in 1989 but returned to the XUAR in 2001 to open a clothing shop in the regional capital Urumqi after obtaining Turkish citizenship. He was detained on April 24, 2017 and sentenced to 15 years in prison by the Intermediate Court of Kashgar prefecture on July 31 that same year, according to a copy of the ruling obtained by RFA.
Mamatali was also fined 74 million yuan (U.S. $11.3 million) and forced to turn over property in order to pay it.
However, in January 2018, the XUAR High Court issued a rare overturning of Mamatali’s verdict, citing “irregularities” in the judicial process, including the harassment of his lawyers, and set in motion the events that led to last month’s retrial.
RFA spoke with a representative from the Intermediate Court of Kashgar Prefecture who said the person responsible for Mamatali’s case was out of the office and that he was unable to comment.
“That person is not in—they’re out on a business trip,” the representative said, without rejecting the claim that Mamatali had been tried in court.
When asked whether the Turkish Embassy in Beijing had received any information about Mamatali’s trial in recent days, a staffer said she was aware of the case but that the responsible person was not in the office at the time and could not comment.
Ahmet Kashgarli, also a Turkish citizen, told RFA that he first received the news of his older brother’s disappearance three days after he was detained, and that he reported the situation to representatives of the Turkish Embassy in Beijing on the same day. One week later, staff from the embassy informed Ahmet by phone that his brother had been detained on suspicions of “aiding terrorism.”
The staff member who spoke to Ahmet told him that embassy representatives planned to attend Mamatali’s July 2017 trial and to monitor the proceedings closely, in accordance with formal agreements between the governments of China and Turkey. They tried to reassure him at the time that there was little chance of an unjust trial. However, the situation did not go as embassy representatives expected.
“After that, in 2019, [the Chinese government] said my brother had been sentenced to 15 years … [but] they still haven’t given me a court judgment,” Ahmet said, adding that his brother appears not to have received one either.
“As of now, we still don’t know whether there is even such a [document] … [The Turkish Embassy] said that [the authorities in the XUAR] had to show them the evidence and proof they were using in the case … They wouldn’t accept the idea that someone could be sentenced without any sort of proof or evidence, and without notifying the Turkish Embassy.”
Ahmet said embassy staff told him that in the past, when Turkish citizens were detained in China, Beijing always notified them about it within a week.
“But then they said that China’s attitude toward the XUAR was now not good, and that they’d made a phone call about my brother,” he said.
“They said they submitted a letter and were waiting for a letter in response to it, that the Chinese side wasn’t responding and it was just sitting without a response.”
Ahmet, an Istanbul-based tourism shop owner, told RFA that since his brother’s detention, he has written 23 different letters about his case to different Turkish government offices, including to the Turkish Foreign Ministry and the Turkish Embassy in Beijing. He said he has also submitted requests for help to Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan on two occasions.
Representatives from the appeals department of Turkey’s Grand National Assembly, or parliament, claim they have submitted at least nine separate notes to China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Ministry of Justice, and the XUAR Procuratorate regarding Mamatali’s case—all of which, they told Ahmet in a February 2019 letter, have gone unanswered.
The Turkish Embassy said it finally received a response from Beijing in December 2020, which claimed that the prisoner was in a good health and that the court would soon notify the embassy when he was retried, but ultimately received no advance warning of the March 17 proceedings in Peyziwat county.
Allegations of ‘terrorism’
Ahmet told RFA he was unsurprised by the accusation by the Chinese court that he is a “terrorist,” despite never having been part of any organization or involved in any activities other than those connected to his business endeavors. He noted that in the 33 years he has lived in Turkey, he has never once been accused of criminal activity or called in for questioning by authorities.
“In the view of China, all of us living outside [the homeland] right now are terrorists,” he said.
He suggested that the Chinese government is accusing him of terrorism merely as “a pretense” for punishing his older brother Mamatali and Abdujelil Abduhelil.
“They’re calling us terrorists in order to take revenge on us, to take revenge on Uyghurs living on the outside, so they’ve implicated my brother on the grounds that he’s connected to [a terrorist] and are detaining him for that reason,” he said.
Ahmet said that over the past four years of his brother’s imprisonment, he has tried unsuccessfully to advocate quietly for his release by meeting with relevant government offices in Turkey, fearing that speaking publicly to the media about the case would complicate the situation.
“I kept thinking that because my brother is innocent, because he’s committed no crime, they would definitely let him go, and so I never formally spoke to any media agencies,” he said.
“Now, looking at the fact that on March 17 they suddenly tried my brother in a closed courtroom for a crime he didn’t commit, for things he has no relationship to, I’m angry. Starting now, I will really be part of the cause. I am determined to fight for my brother, to take his case all the way to the foreign minister and the leader of the country.”
China’s efforts to brand as terrorists Uyghurs with grievances about widespread and worsening repression of the ethnic has suffered major blows in the past six months.
Last October, the U.S. State Department dropped the East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM) from its list of terrorist organizations, because, it said, “for more than a decade, there has been no credible evidence that ETIM continues to exist.”
And last week in Istanbul, a Turkish judge dismissed a request by Beijing to extradite Uyghur religious teacher Abduqadir Yapchan to China to face “terrorism” charges, citing the lack of credible evidence, his lawyer said. Yapchan has been living in Istanbul for 18 years and spent the last five in detention while the extradition case played out.
Uyghurs and independent analysts say the terrorism charges represent a deflection by China in the face of growing international awareness of the incarceration of some 1.8 million Turkic Muslims in internment camps since 2017. The detention camps, forced sterilization of women and other policies have prompted the U.S. government and several Western parliaments to designate the abuses as part of a state-backed genocide.
Reported by Shohret Hoshur for RFA’s Uyghur Service. Translated by the Uyghur Service. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.
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