CATHOLIC NEWS OF THE WEEK . Saturday, 22 September 2018

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Uyghurs dispute validity of terrorism charges

BEIJING (UCAN): Courts across the Xinjiang region of China had sentenced 45 people on terrorism charges prior to August 28 amidst a crackdown on minority Muslim Uyghur separatists.

Xinhua reported on August 27 that courts in Aksu, Kashgar, Karamay, Hotan and the autonomous Kazakh prefecture had held 10 trials in recent days, sentencing people to between four years and life in prison.

“The people’s courts have zero tolerance for terror crimes,” an unnamed official from Xinjiang’s highest court was quoted as saying by Xinhua.

“They will continue to use the law to strike hard against the crime of illegally leaving the country and use the law to strike hard against criminals who flee abroad and attempt jihad,” the state-run news agency said.

Under the current president, Xi Jinping, the government has increasingly tried to seal off Xinjiang’s long, remote border amid escalating attacks linked to Muslim separatists that peaked last year.

In July, Thailand sent back more than 100 Turkic-speaking Uyghur people deemed terrorists by China, despite protests from the United States of America and Turkey.

Since then, state media have replayed images of the hooded and handcuffed individuals, separated from each other by security agents on a flight back to China. As with the Thailand group, Chinese authorities have not publicly presented evidence of terrorism links in the recently announced cases. It also remained unclear whether defendants were permitted defence counsel.

Xinhua reported that in a trial in Kashgar, five people, who were arrested on the border near Tajikistan and Afghanistan trying to join the Taliban and the East Turkestan Islamic Movement, were on trial.

Mansur Khan Mahsud, a research director at the Fata Research Centre, a security think tank in Islamabad, said that verifying Beijing’s claims of organised activity by Xinjiang militants in this remote area remains difficult.

“Recent Pakistani military operations have led to the killing or capture of Taliban and the East Turkestan Islamic Movement fighters, so their military capability is weak,” he said. “But if someone wants to come across, they can come, because you can’t seal the whole border.”

Many of the defendants in the recent trials were described as religious extremists accused of travelling illegally out of China or organising other people to leave.

China’s state media frequently portrays people leaving Xinjiang illegally as terrorists, a claim disputed by exiled Uyghur groups.

“Under Xi Jinping’s heavy-handed repression of the Uyghur people, many ordinary Uyghurs simply want to flee the country,” Alim Seytoff, the director of the Uyghur Human Rights Project in Washington DC, said. “They don’t have passports, they don’t have money, they don’t have any other way to go to any other places legitimately.”

Uyghur people have faced problems processing passports and some have reportedly had travel documents confiscated, particularly in Xinjiang’s border areas.

Authorities said they were introducing a new, unified system for processing passports this month so all residents would receive equal treatment.

Nicholas Bequelin, the east Asia director for Amnesty International in Hong Kong, said that Uyghur people deemed a security threat will continue to face a tough task leaving Xinjiang.

“Beijing’s top priority is the fight against separatism,” he said.

Bequelin explained that the central government continues to draft a vague terrorism law and this week the top legislature proposed criminalising terrorist clothing, the latest sign China is expanding its definition of terrorism.

 

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