Rights activists in Indonesia have joined international calls for China to release Abdukiram Abduveli, an ethnic Uighur man now in the third month of a hunger strike as authorities heap additional sentences to his initial term.
“There is no such law that allows the application of five successive sentences for the same crime by a prisoner,” Imdadun, a member of the Jakarta-based National Commission for Human Rights, or Komnas HAM, tells the Jakarta Globe.
“A punishment without an equitable legal process is a severe human rights violation. The Chinese authorities must review their policy.”
Abduveli, described by Amnesty International as a religious leader, has been on hunger strike in Xinjiang No. 3 Prison in Urumqi, the capital of China’s Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region, since mid-February, according to his family.
Amnesty says that despite having been initially sentenced to 12 years in prison for “organizing a counter-revolutionary group,” Abduveli has been given additional sentences on five separate occasions and has been in custody for nearly 24 years.
“He is thin and malnourished, requires a wheelchair and does not even have the strength to hold a telephone for more than two minutes,” Amnesty said in a statement on its website. “Previously, the family had been informed that Abdukiram Abduveli had developed bone cancer. It is not known whether he is receiving the treatment he needs.”
The rights group says Abduveli went on hunger strike after receiving a fifth straight sentence.
“He was first detained in 1990 and sentenced to 12 years in prison in 1993 on charges including ‘organizing a counter-revolutionary group,’” Amnesty says.
But on his scheduled release date of Nov. 16, 2002, prison officials told his family that his sentence had been extended by three years. They were told the same thing three more times in 2005, 2008 and 2011.
“His family has received a written court verdict explaining the additional prison sentences only once,” Amnesty says.
“According to that verdict, dated July 1, 2009, Abdukiram Abduveli was given four additional three-year sentences for undermining the order of prison administration (Article 315 of China’s Criminal Law). According to the law, three years is the maximum sentence for this offense — only to be applied when circumstances are serious.”
Frans Winarta, a legal expert, says the multiple sentences constitute cruel and unusual punishment.
“The aim of imprisonment is to rehabilitate those people who commit crimes. It is not a place for a revenge,” he tells the Globe. “The law has to be righteous. There cannot be a punishment without a clear verdict.”
A copy of the verdict received by Abduveli’s family in 2009 stated that he was given the multiple sentenced after he “refused to accept prison education, engaged many times in praying, announced a hunger strike, and swore at and hit his supervising inmates.”
Andreas Harsono, a researcher at Human Rights Watch Indonesia, says the Chinese authorities should not dictate whether Abduveli, a Muslim, can be allowed to worship.
“He’s just doing something he believes in. He’s not committing any kind of violence. He should be released without those additional sentences,” he tells the Globe.
Amnesty points out that under the United Nations Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners, all prisoners should be allowed to satisfy the needs of their religious life, and no prisoner should be punished twice for the same offense.
The UN standard is not legally binding, but activists point out that the multiple sentences also go against Chinese law.
“It is against Chinese law and international law for Chinese authorities to extend his prison term,” Amnesty International China researcher William Nee said last month as quoted by Radio Free Asia.
“The Chinese government should release him immediately and provide him with medical care,” Nee added.
Imdadun says the initial crime for which Abduveli was imprisoned, “organizing a counter-revolutionary group,” is in itself questionable, given that he was known to speak about the Koran and advocate the spread of Islam and for economic equality between Han Chinese and Uighurs, according to Amnesty.
“Basic human rights guarantees the right of everyone to adhere to their own beliefs, and that includes the right to spread religious preaching to the public,” Imdadun says.
“As long as the preaching does not disrupt public interests and does not interrupt the security of one’s nation, it essentially cannot be limited or prohibited in any country. We need to try to understand whether this initial charge of organizing a counter-revolutionary group is a criminal offense in China. Was he preaching radical beliefs to the public? Was he spreading hatred through his preaching? That we do not know.”
Imdadun says that as long as Abduveli was only preaching peacefully, he did not deserve to be in jail for so long.
“No government in any country has the right to suppress or punish people for what they believe in,” he says.