Executed Uyghur Refugee Left Torture Testimony Behind
Chinese police used electric chair, nails, in bid to extract confession
WASHINGTON, October 24 - Chinese authorities in Xinjiang have executed a Uyghur dissident who detailed a grim litany of torture sessions in an unprecedented testimony recorded for Radio Free Asia (RFA), which he requested be held until he was "in a safe place."
Officials in Hotan confirmed Oct. 22 that Shirali had been executed in Hotan but declined to say when the execution had occurred. Shirali was tried and convicted Nov. 12, 2002, and sentenced to death in March 2003 for "manufacturing and stockpiling illegal weapons and explosives," separatism, and "organizing and leading a terrorist organization."
Shirali--also known as Shaheer Ali and Ghojamamt Abbas--spoke to RFA’s Uyghur service in May 2001, describing eight months of torture from April to December of 1994 in the Old Market Prison, in Guma (in Chinese, Pishan) County, in the Xinjiang Autonomous Region. In several interviews conducted by telephone from Nepal, Shirali described how he was beaten with shackles, shocked in an electric chair, repeatedly kicked unconscious, and then drenched in cold water to revive him for more torture.
His account spanned torture sessions that recurred every 10 or 15 days during his detention. He referred to his interrogators throughout as "executioners," saying they told him to confess to separatist activities or risk dying in the interrogation room. He was frequently interrogated through the use of an electric chair.
"One executioner winked at the other, who then came over and pressed down the switch of the chair. As if someone was pouring me with boiling water and peeling off my skin, my entire body was in a harsh pain. I was tortured this way for about three minutes," Shirali, who would have been 31 this year, said. "After a short while, that executioner turned off the chair switch. He came to me and said to me using the interpreter, 'Just like what we said, you will not get out of here alive. So you must confess.’"
Shirali said he belonged to the Eastern Turkestan Islamic Reform Party, which he described as a nonmilitant organization. Chinese news reports claim, however, that Shirali was a member of the East Turkestan Islamic Hezbollah group--part of what Beijing describes as "one of the most dangerous terrorist organizations." Beijing at one time offered a bounty of 500,000 yuan (about U.S. $60,000) for his capture.
"They tied my hands and hung me up high. Then they beat me for about half an hour with shackles. I screamed loudly because I could not stand the pain. During this time my body was covered with blood. [Then] they took me down and poured a bucket of water over me," Shirali said.
On another occasion, Ali said he was asked for details of an organization working for independence for the predominantly Muslim Xinjiang Autonomous Region of China, known among Uyghurs as East Turkestan. "I told them, ‘I became a member of the organization following the leadership of Ablikim Mamatimin and Ablimit Oshur. But I don’t know anything other than this. And I don’t have anything else.’"
"That heavy executioner said nothing and turned on the chair switch. As if someone was pulling out my heart and sticking a needle through my body, this time I was suffering from an unbearable burning pain. I screamed and bit my tongue... By this time I had already unconsciously had a bowel movement. My cellmates changed my clothes."
In one such session, Shirali said, "They shouted at me and broke a couple of nails on my right foot--then they pushed nails into two of the toes on my left foot. I lost consciousness because I couldn't stand this torture. When I opened my eyes, I saw my cellmates sitting around me. I had been unconscious for exactly seven hours."
"I was in cell number three. It was three meters long and two meters wide. It had no window. There were only a couple of tiny openings on the roof for some light. Including me, there were eight people in this cell," he said.
Shirali escaped from Xinjiang to Nepal in November 2000 by stowing away inside the tanker of an oil truck headed for Tibet, where he arrived drenched in toxic fuel. He then spent six months trekking from Tibet to Nepal. In December 2001, while awaiting resettlement as a U.N.-recognized refugee, his home was raided by Nepalese police, who detained him in Hanuman Dhoka Prison.
Human rights observers believe he and another Uyghur, Abdu Allah Sattar, were forcibly repatriated together by either Nepalese police or Chinese Embassy officials in January 2002--taking advantage of the political momentum against terrorism following the Sept.11, 2001 attacks on the United States.
Amnesty International issued an appeal on behalf of the two men, together with Kheyum Whashim Ali, in April 2002. The U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees had recognized all three as refugees.
Chinese authorities describe the East Turkestan Islamic Hezbollah group--of which they say Shirali was a member--as "one of the most dangerous terrorist organizations." In a series of allegations published in September 2002, Beijing said the East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM) had used various names including East Turkestan Islamic Hezbollah and East Turkestan Party. Together, Chinese officials said, ETIM factions had killed 166 people and injured some 440 through its activities. Both the United Nations and the United States have blacklisted ETIM as a terrorist organization.
Uyghurs constitute a distinct, Turkic-speaking, Muslim minority in northwestern China and Central Asia. They declared a short-lived East Turkestan Republic in Xinjiang in the late 1940s but have remained under Beijing's control since 1949.
According to a Chinese Government white paper, in 1998 Xinjiang comprised 8 million Uyghurs, 2.5 million other ethnic minorities, and 6.4 million Han Chinese-up from 300,000 Han in 1949. Most Uyghurs are poor farmers, and at least 25 percent are illiterate.