The recent purported death of a prominent Uyghur writer in custody shows that China has not made strides in improving its freedom of expression record, Amnesty International said Wednesday.
The death of writer Nurmemet Yasin took place sometime in 2011 in Shaya prison in the western Xinjiang region–the same place where dissident lawyer Gao Zhisheng is being held–but it was only reported a few days ago, according to Amnesty. Yasin was jailed for writing “Wild Pigeon,” a story about a pigeon that is trapped by humans, and chooses to kill itself rather than live in captivity.
In Yasin’s book, the narrator says, “Now, finally, I can die free. I feel as if my soul is on fire–soaring and free.”
Publishing the book netted him a charge of “inciting splittism,” Amnesty said.
Yasin, who also published school textbooks, was reportedly suffering from poor health while detained, and the conditions at Shaya are said to be harsh. Yasin was arrested in 2004 after he published “Wild Pigeon,” and was jailed for 10 years.
Amnesty said that the Chinese regime needs to confirm if Yasin died while in prison.
“Nurmemet Yasin should never have been imprisoned in the first place, and if confirmed, the death of this young writer in prison is a shameful indictment” of the Chinese regime’s rule of law, stated Catherine Baber, Amnesty International’s Deputy Director for the Asia Pacific.
“The Chinese authorities should realize that consigning peaceful writers to a slow death in prison will never destroy their writing, or tame the urge to freedom that their writing inspires,” she added.
The Uyghur American Association on Wednesday also called on the Chinese regime to release information about the writer’s death, but noted that his family claimed they visited him in recent days.
“The rumors and speculation surrounding this tragedy demonstrate a critical lack of transparency in China’s legal system and especially in the treatment of Uyghur prisoners,” Uyghur American Association Alim Seytoff said in a statement.
Yasin’s death highlights how difficult it is to obtain information about dissidents in Chinese custody, as in the case of human rights lawyer Gao Zhisheng.
According to previous reporting by The Epoch Times, Gao’s family has to go for months, if not years, without hearing from him. His wife expressed fears in January last year that Gao had died after being tortured.
Yasin’s case also highlights the perilous situation for Uyghurs in China. In the past month, nearly a dozen Uyghurs deported from Malaysia to China were sentenced to prison on similar separatism charges. Also, a prominent Uyghur scholar was harassed in Xinjiang and Beijing during the 18th National Party Congress, reported Radio Free Asia.
The Epoch Times publishes in 35 countries and in 20 languages. Subscribe to our e-newsletter.