DUBLIN (Compass Direct News) – Authorities in Xinjiang Province recently moved Uyghur Christian Alimjan Yimit from a prison in Kashgar to a prison in the provincial capital Urumqi and allowed the first visit from family members since his arrest in January 2008, sources told Compass.
Alimjan (Alimujiang Yimiti in Chinese) was noticeably thinner but in good spirits, the family told friends after their brief visit to him in Xinjiang No. 3 prison on April 20, one source told Compass. They were allowed only 15 minutes to speak with Alimjan via telephone through a glass barrier, the source said.
But Alimjan's lawyers, Li Baiguang and Liu Peifu, were prohibited from meeting with him, despite gaining permission from the Xinjiang Bureau of Prison Management, the China Aid Association (CAA) reported on Saturday.
Officials have now granted Alimjan's wife Gulnur (Chinese spelling Gulinuer) and other close family members permission to visit him once a month.
Alimjan and Gulnur pastored a Uyghur ethnic house church in Xinjiang prior to his arrest in January 2008.
Attorney Li told Radio Free Asia earlier this month that while the initial charges against Alimjan were both "instigating separatism" and "leaking state secrets" to foreign organizations, his actual offense was talking to visiting Christians from the United States.
The Kashgar Intermediate Court found Alimjan guilty of "leaking state secrets" on Oct. 27, 2009, and gave him a 15-year sentence. His lawyers appealed the sentence, but the People's High Court of Xinjiang upheld the original verdict on March 16.
"This decision is illegal and void because it never succeeded in showing how Alimjan supplied state secrets to people overseas," Li said, according to Radio Free Asia.
"Religion lies at the heart of this case," fellow legal advocate Li Dunyong, who was effectively disbarred at the end of May 2008 when Chinese authorities turned down an annual application to renew his law license, told Radio Free Asia.
Zhang Kai, another Beijing lawyer who had defended Alimjan, suffered the same fate.
Alimjan's legal team now plans to appeal to the Beijing Supreme Court, according to CAA.
Officials initially interrogated Alimjan during his employment by two foreign-owned companies and forbade him to discuss the questioning with anyone. In September 2007 they closed the business he then worked for and accused him of using it as a cover for "preaching Christianity" among the Uyghurs.
Kashgar police then detained Alimjan on Jan. 11, 2008, on charges of endangering state security before formally re-arresting him on Feb. 20, 2008, for allegedly "inciting secession" and "leaking state secrets."
He was then held for more than a year at the Kashgar Municipal Detention Center without facing trial.
After an initial closed hearing in the Kashgar Intermediate Court on May 27, 2008, court officials returned Alimjan's case to state prosecutors citing lack of evidence. During a second secret hearing in July 2009 the charge of "inciting secession" was dropped. After further investigation the case was returned to court officials for consideration in mid-October 2008.
On Mar. 30, 2009, just one week after a rare prison visit from his lawyer, prison officials transferred Alimjan to a hospital in Kashgar. Alimjan called out to onlookers, "I'm sick. Tell my lawyer to come quickly to see me," according to a CAA report. Compass sources confirmed that Alimjan had been beaten in prison.
Last October, authorities finally sentenced Alimjan to 15 years in prison for "leaking state secrets" to foreign organizations.
"It is the maximum penalty for this charge … which requires Alimjan's actions to be defined as having caused irreparable, grave national damage," Li Dunyong said in a CAA press statement announcing the verdict.
The United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention has ruled the arrest and detention of Alimjan to be arbitrary and in violation of international law, according to CAA.