China: Uyghur student facing trial highlights government push to jail Muslims

Update: Zulyar Yasin is due to go on trial on 4 January 2023 following two trial postponements due to Covid-19. His family say he has been tortured in detention.

A Uyghur student is set to go on trial for “separatism” in the city of Urumqi on Tuesday in what appears to be the latest example of the Chinese government’s strategy to unlawfully imprison Muslims in the country’s Xinjiang region, Amnesty International said today.

Zulyar Yasin was detained at his home in December 2021 and his family were recently informed that he will be sentenced to up to five years in jail, Amnesty has learned. Yasin appears to have been targeted because he travelled to Turkey as a teenager.

“This prosecution is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to human rights violations against Uyghurs, Kazakhs and other Muslims in Xinjiang, but it provides a snapshot of how the Chinese government’s machine of repression is operating,” said Gwen Lee, Amnesty International’s China Campaigner.

“Zulyar Yasin appears to be the latest victim of the government’s campaign to arbitrarily detain Uyghurs and other Muslims in prisons on a mass scale. Yasin’s family say the authorities have provided zero evidence for the ‘separatism’ charges against him.”

Yasin, 25, was in the final year of a five-year land management and forestry course at Fujian University in south-eastern China when he was arrested while doing an internship in Urumqi, Xinjiang.

He is set to be defended in court on Tuesday by a government-appointed lawyer, rather than one of his choosing, contrary to international fair trial standards.

Yasin spent two years studying finance at Istanbul University from 2014 to 2016. Uyghurs and other Xinjiang residents who have spent time overseas have been systematically targeted with arbitrary detention by the authorities.

Whether confined in a jail or a camp, the imprisonment, torture and persecution of Uyghurs and other Muslim groups in Xinjiang is unlawful, widespread and ongoing.

Gwen Lee

Prosecutions of Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities in Xinjiang are often shrouded in secrecy, but Amnesty has learned of Yasin’s ordeal through contact with his relatives overseas.

Yasin’s aunt, a Dutch citizen, told Amnesty International: “The police do not have any evidence for his so-called crime. There is no law in China – Uyghurs are being targeted and detained for fake sins. I am broken.” 

She has called for the Government of the Netherlands to intervene in the case.

“Recent Chinese government rhetoric claims people are being released or ‘graduating’ from the ‘re-education’ camps that have caused international outrage. But even if true, this is nothing to celebrate when victims are instead being arbitrarily sent to prison for vaguely worded offences after unfair trials,” Gwen Lee said.

“Whether confined in a jail or a camp, the imprisonment, torture and persecution of Uyghurs and other Muslim groups in Xinjiang is unlawful, widespread and ongoing. The international community, including the United Nations, must redouble its efforts to address crimes against humanity and other serious human rights violations committed in Xinjiang by the Beijing authorities.”   


In June 2021, Amnesty International launched a comprehensive report documenting how China’s crackdown against predominantly Muslim ethnic minorities in Xinjiang amounted to crimes against humanity.

Based on dozens of testimonies, the report described a “dystopian hellscape” encompassing grave human rights violations against detainees, systematic state surveillance of millions of people, and efforts to root out the religious traditions, cultural practices and local languages of the region’s Muslim ethnic groups.

Amnesty has also launched an international campaign calling for the release of all people arbitrarily detained in camps and prisons, and for the closure of the internment camps.

A team led by United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet spent six days in China last month including two days in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region. However, High Commissioner Bachelet failed to address crimes against humanity by the Chinese government during the visit. 

Bachelet’s office has already compiled its own report on human rights violations in Xinjiang, which she said was being “finalised” last year. It has not yet been made public, despite repeated requests from almost 200 NGOs, including Amnesty International.