Uyghur student convicted after posting protests video on WeChat

A Uyghur student who was detained in Xinjiang in December after posting a video on WeChat of the “white paper” protests has been convicted of “advocating extremism”.

Kamile Wayit, 19, was detained in Atush on 12 December the day after returning home from university in Henan, a province in central China. She has not been heard from since, but last week a spokesperson from China’s ministry for foreign affairs confirmed to the Economist magazine that Wayit had been sentenced on 25 March “for the crime of advocating extremism”. The spokesperson did not confirm the length of the sentence but it can be up to five years.

Kamile Wayit.
Kamile Wayit. Photograph: Amnesty International

Wayit is one of dozens of people – many of them young women – who were detained after protests against China’s harsh zero-Covid regime spread across numerous cities in November and December last year. The trigger for the protests was an apartment fire on 24 November in Urumqi, Xinjiang’s capital, which killed 10 people. Many blamed the deaths on residents being unable to leave the building because of Covid controls.

In April, four women who had participated in the protests in Beijing were released on bail after being charged with “picking quarrels and provoking trouble”, a catch-all indictment used against any critics of the government. That charge also carries a sentence of up to five years. The women released in April are reportedly still being monitored by police.

Wayit, who is not thought to have attended any of the protests, has been treated more harshly.

Maya Wang, the associate Asia director at Human Rights Watch, said: “Kamile Wayit’s case is unique in that she has been arrested for a particularly severe crime, simply because she is a Uyghur, and simply for sharing a video about the protests.”

Wayit’s case showed how in Xinjiang “the state can construe everything a Uyghur does – including many peaceful, lawful behaviours – as extremism and terrorism and arbitrarily detain and imprison them,” Wang said.

Wayit’s elder brother, Kewser Wayit, is an engineer living in the US who is outspoken on Uyghur rights issues. He previously told Radio Free Asia that the police had called their father after Kamile shared a post about the protests on WeChat. Kewser also noted that his living abroad may have led to increased scrutiny of Kamile, as is common for Uyghurs living in China. Kewser learned of his sister’s conviction from the Economist.

Wayit had been studying preschool education at the Shangqiu Institute of Technology in Henan. Between 2017 and 2019 she lived alone in Urumqi, and had depression because their father was detained in a “re-education” camp, according to her brother.

China’s ministry of foreign affairs did not respond to a request for comment.

The Guardian

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