China: Uyghur business in limbo
|Publisher||Radio Free Asia|
|Publication Date||9 October 2012|
|Cite as||Radio Free Asia, China: Uyghur business in limbo, 9 October 2012, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/50879ed6c.html [accessed 26 October 2014]|
He claims 'corrupt officials' in Beijing are trying to bilk him out of his business holdings.
Perhat Namanop in an undated photo. Photo courtesy of Perhat Namanop.
A Uyghur businessman claims that Chinese authorities have reneged on a contract to extend a multimillion dollar commercial property agreement and that a lawsuit he filed over the action will be thrown out by court officials who say their hands are tied.
Perhat Namanop said he was also told that the authorities wanted to allocate the commercial property project in Beijing which he had developed for the last 10 years to a Han Chinese, suggesting the move reflects discrimination against minority ethnic Uyghurs, who mostly live in northwestern China's Xinjiang region.
With much uncertainty surrounding his project – his court case has been pushed back another six months – Namanop, who is from Xinjiang's Turpan prefecture and has extensive ties to the Uyghur community in Beijing, is worried that the millions of dollars he has invested in the venture will go up in smoke.
A former police officer in Turpan, Namanop is now under constant surveillance, with police officers visiting him "literally every day" amid concerns by the authorities that he will publicize the issue.
"They are constantly telling me not to start any problems or attract any attention to the issue. Of course I will attract attention to this issue if it does not resolve fairly," the 48-year-old businessman told RFA's Uyghur service.
He said that he and his business partners had refurbished an abandoned state-owned electronics factory site under a 10-year agreement with the authorities in 2002 and had poured an investment of 35 million yuan (U.S. $5.55 million) into the project.
Namanop's company then rented out the refurbished site to 200 companies who set up their offices there. He had employed more than 100 workers, and his company draws more than 20 million yuan (U.S. $3.17 million) in revenue annually with a net profit of about six million yuan (U.S. $951,000).
A year before his 10-year agreement expired in April 2012, Namanop said he applied for an extension of the contract.
The authorities, he said, agreed to extend it for another five years, spurring him to pour additional investments into the project and sign additional subleasing contracts and other deals with more than 100 other companies.
"A year before the expiration of the contract, they provided me with a stamped written agreement to extend the contract for five more years until 2017," he said.
"They are [now] denying that there was ever a written agreement," he said.
Local authorities, when contacted by telephone, refused to comment.
Recently, Beijing authorities notified Namanop that the extension of his rental contract has been "annulled" and told him to vacate the property as soon as possible.
He said he was informed that "corrupt officials" had reneged on the extension because they knew the project was already profitable and wanted to hand it over to a well-connected Han Chinese.
"They see how much profit I have been making and they want to put a stop to it by rescinding the extended rental agreement," he said.
Namanop said that after pleading unsuccessfully with Beijing city officials and the high-level officials who had managed the original state-owned electronics company to honor the extension of the contract, he decided to take them to court.
"We began the lawsuit about six months ago. At the beginning, we were assured by court officials that we would win the case because of the written agreement," Namanop said.
"But you know how things work here – later we were notified by the same court officials that a higher-ranked regional government official demanded the property be sold to a friend of his, so they said there was nothing else they could do and we would lose the case," he said.
Court officials soon stated that even though the new extension agreement was stamped, it was not equivalent to a contract and was not legal.
"The fate of this case is now unpredictable; no law can determine the outcome, only the [officials involved]," he said.
"One court official said that if I could find someone ranked higher than the regional government official [who ordered the court to disregard the written agreement] to side with me, I could win the case."
Namanop said that the head judge even told him "openly" that if he were to rule on the case other than how he had been instructed, he would "immediately lose his job."
"They want to hand [the site] to someone else while keeping all the hard work and investment I have put in: the offices, the renovations, and the improvements we added to the property," he said.
When asked if he had been targeted because he was a successful Uyghur businessman or because local government officials were abusing their power to give an advantage to a colleague, Namanop said "both reasons are applicable to my situation."
The ruling on his court case was also pushed back by another six months, Namanop said, suspecting that the government wanted to avoid sparking anger within the Uyghur community ahead of the sensitive 18th National Congress of the ruling Chinese Communist Party scheduled for November.
"They are just paranoid because this case involves Uyghurs and other minorities," he said.
"Some court officials told me that the government officials are worried the decision would attract negative attention just before the 18th Congress or create instability to national security."
Namanop said that the majority of his supporters in Beijing are Uyghurs who work as employees in his restaurants or who he has helped by providing them with a place to live or by intervening on their behalf during conflicts with the local government.
He said a number of them had accompanied him to protest over his case outside of municipal buildings on two occasions in September, although officials had refused to meet with them.
"Many of them rely on me for support. Many of them do not know how to read or write in Chinese, and some can't even speak it. That is why they all stand by me in this matter," he said.
"These Uyghurs will continue to support me until the issue is resolved, even if it means camping outside the government offices."
"I will not only raise attention to this issue within the city, I will go to Tiananmen Square and get international attention if I have to. But I will not let this go."
Reported by Shohret Hoshur for RFA's Uyghur service. Translated by Shirin Arslan. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.