BEIJING, CHINA (BosNewsLife)– An ethnic minority house church leader remained detained in China’s troubled northwestern Xinjiang region Sunday, March 6, after a court rejected an appeal to review his 15 years prison sentence on charges of revealing state secrets to overseas groups.
The Higher People’s Court of the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region said there was “no basis” to review the long prison sentence given to 38-year-old Uyghur Pastor Alimujiang Yimiti, who converted from Islam to Christianity.
A notice was sent to Yimiti in mid-February, informing him of the result of the appeal, Christians said.
An earlier appeal in March 2010 had also failed.
United Nations officials and local Christians have linked the sentence to Yimiti’s Christian conversion, his leadership of a house church with his wife Gulinuer and two sons, and apparent involvement in sharing reports of religious persecution.
To support his family, the pastor also worked as a project manager for Jirehouse, a British company that rights activists said was targeted in a series of closures of foreign companies belonging to Christians in Xinjiang in 2007.
In a translated verdict, seen by BosNewsLife, the Court rejected Yimiti’s arguments that his alleged “discussion with a foreigner regarding the content of a Religious Affairs Bureau’s investigation and the situation of those investigated does not constitute a state secret.”
The Court accussed Yimiti of sharing state secrets to foreign nationals on two occassions in 2007. “The facts of your crime are clear, the evidence complete,” the court said according to the document. “The court has hereby ruled: the submitted petition to appeal your case has no basis.”
Alimujiang Yimiti was formally detained and charged on January 11, 2008 by national security police in the city of Kashgar before being held at the Kashgar Detention Center for more than a year without a verdict, trial observers said.
The Chinese government initially accused him of seperatism and illegal religious infiltration, but these charges were later changed, leading to the conviction on the state secrets charges in 2009. His supporters maintain that Yimiti is innocent as he would not have had access to state secrets as an agricultural worker.
Additionally, a United Nations Working Group defined the detention in 2009 as “arbitrary,” and said the pastor was detained “solely on account of his faith”. His case has drawn widespread international attention and is viewed by rights groups as one of the harshest sentences given to a Christian in China for over a decade.
“The 15-year sentence in Mr. Yimiti’s case represents a gross violation of justice,” said Stuart Windsor, National Director of Britain-based advocacy group Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW). “The failure of the appeal represents the difficulty facing the system of the rule of law in China, where there is no independent judiciary and verdicts can be politically motivated.”
Windsor said CSW has urged the Chinese government “to respect the UN Working Group’s ruling that Alimujiang Yimiti is being detained for his faith and release him immediately.”
Analysts say that Uyghurs, a distinct and mostly Muslim ethnic group indigenous to Xinjiang, have long complained of religious, political, and cultural oppression under Chinese rule, and tensions have simmered there for years.
Xinjiang has been plagued in recent years by bombings, attacks, and riots that Chinese authorities blame on Uyghur separatists.
Several dozen death sentences have been handed down in connection with July 5, 2009, clashes in the Xinjiang capital, Urumqi, which followed protests over attacks by ethnic majority Han Chinese on Uyghur workers in southern China’s Guangzhou province.
Nearly 200 people were killed in the ensuing violence according to the government’s tally, Radio Free Asia reported.
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