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Pensioner jailed for spying on Uighurs

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14:35 CET+01:00
A 62-year-old Uighur living in Sweden as a political refugee since 1997 has been found guilty of spying for China on Uighur expatriates and sentenced to a year and four months in jail.

The man, identified in court documents as Swedish citizen Babur Maihesuti, was found guilty of "aggravated illegal espionage activity", the Stockholm district court said in a statement.

Uighurs, a Turkic-speaking Central Asian people residing in northwest China's Xinjiang region, have accused Beijing of decades of religious, cultural and political oppression.

From January 2008 until June 2009, Maihesuti had collected personal information about exiled Uighurs, including details on their health, travel and political involvement, and passed it on to Beijing, the court found.

He had given the information to a Chinese diplomat and a Chinese journalist who, on assignment from the Chinese intelligence service, carried out operations in Sweden for the Chinese state.

"The activity has taken place in secret through a special system of telephone calls, (and) was also deceptive since the man did not tell the Uighurs he was dealing with he was working for the Chinese state," the court said.

The court ruled that the espionage was especially serious since Maihesuti had infiltrated the World Uighur Congress and the information passed on "could cause significant damage to Uighurs in and outside China."

There was also a danger, the court said, that by opening the door for a large power like China to spy on its nationals in Sweden, Beijing could conceivably use the network in the future for other kinds of espionage as well.

"The crime is especially egregious due to the fact that the espionage served a large power that does not fully respect human rights," the court said.

Maihesuti had claimed he had been commissioned by the World Uighur Congress to contact the Chinese diplomat and journalist to conduct secret negotiations with China, and that he had also been trying to recuperate a large sum of money owed to him by the Chinese state.

The court however did not believe his account, instead basing its verdict on what it described as "strong" prosecution evidence, including wire-tapped phone conversations and witness accounts.

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