BEIJING (AP) -- Courts in the western Chinese region of Xinjiang sentenced 32 people to prison, three of them for life, for terror charges stemming from downloading and spreading violent Internet content that authorities have blamed for inspiring a recent string of deadly attacks, state media said Friday.
The other 29 people were handed sentences ranging from four to 15 years' imprisonment by seven courts in the region on Thursday, according to state broadcaster CCTV and the region's official newspaper, the Xinjiang Daily.
Escalating unrest in Xinjiang, home to China's Turkic Muslim Uighur (pronounced WEE-gur) ethnic minority who want more autonomy from Beijing, has posed a serious challenge to the administration of Communist Party leader Xi Jinping in his first 20 months in power. In May, a market bombing killed 43 people in Xinjiang's capital, Urumqi.
Thursday's sentencing is part of efforts to scour and scrub the Internet for material promoting religious warfare or teaching bomb-making methods that Chinese authorities say have fueled the recent attacks.
Chinese state media have said that virtually all those taking part in those attacks have been exposed to extremist content online. It said Xinjiang separatists have recently flooded the Web with such material, raising the challenge to authorities and the risk of further attacks.
The attacks, which have killed dozens of people this year, prompted Beijing to launch an expansive security crackdown in the region, arresting several hundred people and sentencing scores to prison and in some cases to death.
The Xinjiang Daily reported that the defendants used cell phones and the Internet to download and spread audio clips and videos that incited separatism and religious extremism. With the content, the defendants organized or took part in terror groups in which they illegally produced explosives and promoted ethnic hatred, it said.
In one case, Alijujiang Siyitiwumaier and Xiadawuti Maimaiti were sentenced to life in prison on charges of organizing and leading a terror group in Urumqi that relied on such content, the newspaper said.
They were accused of running illegal "preaching sites" that spread terrorist ideology by exposing participants to books, audio and video content that promoted extremism and separatism and running physical training and lectures imparting terrorist methods, the report said.
The third defendant sentenced to life imprisonment was convicted of similar charges.
An overseas-based Uighur activist, Dilxat Raxit, said Beijing was using the crackdown on terrorism to further limit the Uighur community's access to the Internet.
"Uighurs use the Internet to challenge China's colonial rule," he said in an email. "Anyone who uses the Internet to disseminate or publish remarks that express discontent with Chinese rule will be subject to allegations and the loss of their freedom."
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