Abdujelil Hajim was accused of ties to terrorist organizations after his initial sentence was reversed.2021-03-31
A Uyghur businessman who appealed his prison sentence has been re-tried and accused of additional “crimes” in northwest China’s Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR) according to sources, while his lawyers received threats from judicial officials demanding they back out of proceedings.
Abdujelil Hajim, formerly the vice chairman of the Kashgar (in Chinese Kashi) Prefectural Trade Association and head of goods transport firm Xinjiang Helil International Business LLC., was detained on March 13, 2017 and charged with “aiding terrorism” on May 28 of the same year. He was taken to trial on July 28, 2018 and sentenced by the by the Kashgar Prefectural Intermediate Court to 14 years in prison. The judgment against him also included a personal fine of 73 million yuan (U.S. $11.1 million) and a fine against his company of 5 million yuan (U.S. $763,000).
Hajim appealed his imprisonment in 2019, claiming innocence of the charges against him, and the Uyghur Autonomous Region High Court reversed his sentence, citing insufficient evidence and ordering the Kashgar Prefectural Intermediate Court to review the case. In the same period, Hajim was released from prison to a hospital, as he was in poor health and required treatment.
Hajim’s lawyers reportedly asked that he be completely released from custody or be placed under house arrest while his case was being reviewed. However, Li Ningping, Secretary of the Kashgar Prefectural Party Committee, insisted that Hajim remain in prison while the review was underway, alleging that he was a “major criminal” who should not be released. Li then oversaw a review that lasted close to a year and a half, which ultimately led to even graver, more serious charges against Hajim.
Sources told RFA’s Uyghur Service that Hajim was subsequently charged for “aiding terrorists” and “membership in a terrorist organization”—specifically for allegedly taking part in Kashgar-based meetings in 2008 and 2009 with the “Camel Group” of the East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM), which was formerly on the U.S. State Department’s list of terrorist organizations but removed late last year because there was “no credible evidence” that the group continued to exist.
The sources said that Hajim was charged with aiding terrorists because he transferred money to a woman in the XUAR capital Urumqi whose husband was in Turkey, one of several countries blacklisted by Chinese authorities because of an alleged risk of exposure to “religious extremism.” They said that he was charged with membership in a terrorist organization based on some 30 interviews with “witnesses” who saw Hajim at the “Camel Group” meetings, including several other inmates currently serving prison terms.
Following his appeal, sources said, Hajim was re-tried in a secret trial held in Qalghach Binam Prison, where he is serving his sentence, in Kashgar’s Peyziwat (Jiashi) county on March 17, 2021. He was represented by two lawyers from a firm called Yafeng in Sichuan province who were permitted to take part in the trial but were only informed of the proceedings one week prior and handed stacks of documents and evidence far exceeding what they would have time to review in the allotted time.
The lawyers reportedly requested that the trial be moved back by one week to allow them more time to review the case, but their request was rejected, and they were forced to focus their efforts on reviewing on the most serious charges leveled against Hajim, those of membership in a terrorist organization. The trial reportedly concluded after two hours, with a ruling suspended until a “later date.”
RFA’s Uyghur Service spoke with several employees of the Kashgar Intermediate Court who said that Hajim’s case was a criminal matter and that they didn’t have the authority to comment on it. However, another employee said that they were “aware of his name” and that they access to “registration of his case.”
When asked whether Hajim’s trial was held at the prison where he is being held, the employee acknowledged that “it was,” before hanging up.
RFA also spoke with a source who confirmed that as lawyers for Hajim furiously made preparations to go to court, they were called into the Department of Justice for Kashgar prefecture, where they were pressured by personnel to back out of the trial the next day.
When the lawyers, shocked by this, asked what the reasoning was, they were supposedly told that Hajim’s trial was a matter of “national security,” and that there would be “no disputing the charges.” The lawyers insisted on appearing in court, after which they were threatened in a variety of ways, the source said.
According to the source, the verdict of the case was “predetermined,” as the lawyers were told they must admit that Hajim is a “criminal” in order to participate in the trial, and that there would be no chance he would be found innocent. At the time, the lawyers said it would be illegal to do so, noting also that they would be punished when returning to Sichuan. Prosecutors, court employees, and police officers responsible for the case are also said to have openly threatened the two lawyers on the scene.
An employee of the Kashgar Prefectural Department of Justice confirmed the source’s claims.
“They don’t understand the situation here, it was necessary for us to explain things to them a little, to let them know that the laws in Sichuan don’t apply here,” the employee said.
“We told them not to worry about proving Hajim as innocent because the verdict had already been handed down.”
When asked about whether the two lawyers were threatened by police and court employees, an employee of the administrative office of the Kashgar Intermediate Court refused to share any information with RFA, noting that his manager, who was responsible for the case, was not in the office. However, after mentioning that a judge by the name of Erkin had spoken with the lawyers, the employee indirectly confirmed that the two different sides had been in contact with one another.
“There were no threats against them. Other than us, investigators, court employees, and police personnel were there [at the trial] in person. They were simply a bit nervous because they hadn’t seen such a scene before,” the employee said.
“We came to an agreement in the end; they agreed they wouldn’t try to prove Hajim innocent or file a complaint against the verdict … I heard that they didn’t do this, that they complicated the case a bit.”
The lawyers refused to comment on the case when reached by RFA.
One of the wealthiest Uyghur businessmen in Kashgar, Hajim was arrested along with leading Uyghur entrepreneurs Gheni Haji, Memet Tursun Haji, and Imin Hajim in May 2017 for acts of “religious extremism.”
Sources told RFA at the time that the four men, whose last names signify that they have made the Muslim holy pilgrimage to Mecca, were later sentenced to a total of 42 years in prison.
Hajim’s financial independence allowed him to hire two lawyers, sources said—a rarity among Uyghurs, who often have no recourse for challenging verdicts in the court system. Although Hajim is a widely known figure in and prominent member of Uyghur society, he also long worked closely with the government, collaboration made possible by his wealth and his mild-tempered manner. It is likely for these reasons that the high court accepted his appeal and agreed that the intermediate court should review and re-try his case.
The justice department employee noted that although Abduljelil had never been involved in any anti-government activities, he often “interacted with religious figures” and had also “traveled abroad” on a number of instances, claiming that chances were high that he had been “infected by religious extremism and separatism.”
Authorities are believed to have held up to 1.8 million Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities accused of harboring “strong religious” and “politically incorrect” views in a vast network of internment camps in the XUAR since 2017, and have jailed or detained hundreds of Uyghur academics and other influential members of the ethnic group in recent years.
While Beijing initially denied the existence of the camps, China this year changed tack and began describing the facilities as “boarding schools” that provide vocational training for Uyghurs, discourage radicalization, and help protect the country from terrorism.
But reporting by RFA’s Uyghur Service and other media outlets suggest that those in the camps are detained against their will and subjected to political indoctrination, routinely face rough treatment at the hands of their overseers and endure poor diets and unhygienic conditions in the often overcrowded facilities.
The fates of the three other wealthy businessmen who were arrested alongside Hajim are currently unknown.
Reported Shohret Hoshur for RFA’s Uyghur Service. Translated by RFA’s Uyghur Service. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.