The brutal genocide of Uyghur Muslims in the occupied region of East Turkestan (referred to by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) as Xinjiang) has horrified the world.
With up to three million people believed to have been locked up in camps by the Communist regime and the authorities implemented one of the most Orwellian surveillance regimes on earth, it will come as no surprise to learn that online freedoms in the region are almost non-existent.
But that still doesn’t mean it is not horrifying each and every time a new horror emerges. And so it is when news appears that a Uyghur student from the region has been jailed for using a VPN.
If that wasn’t bad enough, the jail term that has been handed down is an incredible 13 years behind bars.
The sad case of Mehmut Memtimin
The student in question is called Mehmut Memtimin. He was studying computer science at Xinjiang University’s Institute of Information and Technology in Urumqi, the region’s capital.
According to Radio Free Asia (RFA), which first reported his case, Mehmut was actually arrested more than five years ago at the height of the CCPs atrocities in the region.
Reporting the words of a policeman involved in his arrest, Mehmut was found to be using a VPN to bypass the CCP’s incredibly draconian state surveillance to access accurate information about what was happening in the region, rather than simply swallowing the lies handed down by the Communist regime.
The practice of using VPNs is technically illegal across the entire region controlled by the CCP. But their use is also widespread as people trapped behind the Great Firewall seek trustworthy information.
So, Mehmet was not doing anything unusual. But nonetheless, at midday on 7th December 2017, police records show that he was arrested at his home in Qaghiliq, about 1,000 miles from Urumqi.
The Xinjiang Police Files
RFA cites research from Gene Bunin who has spent the best part of five years researching the Uyghurs and who runs the Uyghur Victims Database which catalogues as many of the millions of Uyghurs who have been persecuted by the CCP.
The case of Mehmet was just one of many leaked as part of the Xinjiang Police Files late last year.
According to the officer cited in the files, known as Abduweli, “the reason for his arrest was that he posed a threat to national security by using a VPN.”
The notion that using a VPN to access the internet would be considered a threat to national security would be considered ridiculous in most of the world. But in Communist China, any efforts to bypass state censorship can be interpreted in such a way.
And such is the persecution of the Uyghurs, that in their case, all convictions are likely to be treated with undue harshness.
So, it proved with Mehmet, who according to Abduweli “was sentenced to 13 years and is serving time in Tumshuq Prison.”
That means Mehmet will be in prison until 2030. Simply for using a VPN. It is a sentence longer than many murderers and rapists will serve here in the UK.
The fact that he is serving his absurdly harsh sentence in Tumshuq Prison, which many innocent Uyghurs have been incarcerated by the Chinese regime tells you everything that you need to know about the real motivations behind the case.
Sadly, until the Chinese people rise up and overthrow the shackles of the Communist regime that oppresses them all, the chances are that there is little hope of Mehmet getting out of jail early. His is just another life ruined by the Chinese Communist Party.
A warning to other VPN users in China
For others, his case should serve as a warning about the risks involved in using a VPN inside Communist China. It is still the best way to bypass state censorship and access truthful information about what is really happening inside China.
But it is important to take all precautions when doing so. Make sure you are using a reputable VPN, not a free one that may well hand over your details to the Chinese authorities.
When connecting to a VPN, be sure to use the kill switch and all other tools on offer to minimise the risk of your connection dropping and your internet use being exposed.
And lastly, try to take precautions with your devices too. Do not carry mobile devices with VPN’s installed unless you have a burner device that is clean, and you can show to the authorities when asked.
VPNs are an essential tool for internet users all over China and particularly in occupied regions like East Turkestan. But users should be aware of the risks and the sad case of Mehmet Memtimin is one of the starkest we have heard in a very long time.