London 1 September, 2013 – The sentencing of linguist Abduweli Ayup and two associates from China’s Uyghur minority on charges of ‘illegal fundraising’ highlights the intolerance of the Chinese authorities towards the use of the Uyghur language, PEN International said today. Ayup and two business partners, Dilyar Obul and Muhemmet Sidik, were arrested on 20 August 2013 and detained for over a year without trial. At the time of their arrest, Ayup and his associates were trying to set up schools in China’s Xinjiang region to promote the minority Uyghur language. The trial was finally held on 11 July 2014, lasting only one day. The three men were convicted of abusing public money and sentenced to between 18 months and three years in prison and ordered to pay fines of between 80,000 and 130,000 Yuan (equivalent to US$13,000 to US$21,130).
PEN International condemns this continued crackdown on Chinese Uyghurs and urges the Chinese government to release the three men immediately and unconditionally, if – as appears -they are held solely for their efforts to set up and run Uyghur-language kindergartens and schools.
‘Respect and protection of all languages plays a vital role in ensuring cultural diversity, maintaining dialogue, and in attaining quality education for all. The Uyghur community in China must be free to use and promote their language as it is an inseparable part of their identity, without fear of imprisonment. Protecting linguistic diversity can only enrich us all.’ – Josep-Maria Terricabras, Chair of PEN International’s Translation and Linguistic Rights Committee.
One of the guiding principles of PEN’s Girona Manifesto on Linguistic Rights states: ‘School instruction must contribute to the prestige of the various languages spoken by the linguistic community of the territory’. PEN International calls on the Chinese authorities to protect minority language rights and to respect linguistic diversity as an essential cornerstone of the fundamental right to freedom of expression.