Uyghur county in China has highest prison rate in the world
By HUIZHONG WU and DAKE KANG
17 May 2022
BEIJING (AP) — Nearly one in 25 people in a county in the Uyghur heartland of China has been sentenced to prison on terrorism-related charges, in what is the highest known imprisonment rate in the world, an Associated Press review of leaked data shows.
A list obtained and partially verified by the AP cites the names of more than 10,000 Uyghurs sent to prison in just Konasheher county alone, one of dozens in southern Xinjiang. In recent years, China has waged a brutal crackdown on the Uyghurs, a largely Muslim minority, which it has described as a war on terror.
The list is by far the biggest to emerge to date with the names of imprisoned Uyghurs, reflecting the sheer size of a Chinese government campaign by which an estimated million or more people were swept into internment camps and prisons. It also confirms what families and rights groups have said for years: China is relying on a system of long-term incarceration to keep the Uyghurs in check, wielding the law as a weapon of repression.
Under searing international criticism, Chinese officials announced the closure in 2019 of short-term, extrajudicial internment camps where Uyghurs were thrown in without charges. However, although attention focused on the camps, thousands of Uyghurs still languish for years or even decades in prison on what experts say are trumped-up charges of terrorism.
Uyghur farmer Rozikari Tohti was known as a soft-spoken, family-loving man with three children and not the slightest interest in religion. So his cousin, Mihrigul Musa, was shocked to discover Tohti had been thrown into prison for five years for “religious extremism.” She said she knew others more likely to be swept up in Xinjiang’s crackdown on religion, such as another cousin who prayed every week, but not Tohti.
“Never did I think he would be arrested,” said Musa, who now lives in exile in Norway. “If you saw him, you would feel the same way. He is so earnest.”
From the list, Musa found out Tohti’s younger brother Abilikim Tohti also was sentenced to seven years on charges of “gathering the public to disturb social order.” Tohti’s next-door neighbor, a farmer called Nurmemet Dawut, was sentenced to 11 years on the same charges as well as “picking quarrels and provoking trouble.”
Konasheher county is typical of rural southern Xinjiang, and more than 267,000 people live there. The prison sentences across the county were for two to 25 years, with an average of nine years, the list shows. While the people on the list were mostly arrested in 2017, according to Uyghurs in exile, their sentences are so long that the vast majority would still be in prison.