BEIJING (AP) — Chinese state media issued details Friday on 81 people sentenced on terror-related charges — nine of them to death — saying the bulk had belonged to terrorist organizations and committed murder and other violent crimes.
The sentences issued Thursday came amid a massive crackdown in the western region of Xinjiang following four high-profile attacks on civilians since late October that have handed a major security challenge to President Xi Jinping during his first 15 months in office.
The attacks have been blamed on extremists from the Xinjiang region’s native Turkic-speaking Uighurs seeking to overthrow Chinese rule and inspired by global jihadi ideology.
Since a vegetable market bombing that killed 43 people on May 22, officials have issued a flurry of announcements citing more than 300 arrests and scores of rapid prosecutions resulting in stiff sentences including the death penalty — raising concerns among some human rights advocates that the prosecutions may be trampling legal rights.
Xinjiang television said 68 people had been charged with organizing, leading or participating in a terrorist organization, along with murder, assault, arson, and making or transporting explosives and firearms. It said 13 others were charged with lesser crimes such as ethnic discrimination and distributing materials promoting ethnic hatred.
Footage showed the accused standing before court officials in prison uniforms, their hands shackled and heads pressed down by officers standing behind them. Some were hooded as they left the courtroom.
Evidence shown included samurai swords and what appeared to be rope fuses and other simple bomb-making materials.
Authorities have said 23 extremist groups have been broken up, including a group of five allegedly plotting another bomb attack. Last week, officials said 55 people charged with terrorism and other crimes were sentenced at a stadium in northern Xinjiang — including at least one sentenced to death.
Another 81 more people were sentenced at six different courts in Xinjiang — including nine sentenced to death and three given suspended death sentences which typically are commuted to life in prison.
Court officials could not be reached for comment.
Meanwhile, the Xinjiang regional government said Thursdsay on its website that 29 new “violent terrorist criminal suspects” had been arrested.
Chinese authorities strictly control information about security in Xinjiang, and very little information can be obtained independently about suspects rounded up in such crackdowns or the evidence against them.
Beijing says the attackers are religious extremists with ties to overseas Islamic terror groups, but has publicly shown little evidence to support that.
Activists among the native Turkic Uighur population say the unrest is fueled by resentment against settlers from China’s Han majority and official discrimination and restrictions on their native culture and Islamic practices. They also say Chinese authorities label general criminal activity and non-violent protests as terrorist acts.
Rights activists have cautioned the latest crackdown could result in police abuses such as torture and forced confessions, faulty trials and inordinately heavy sentencing, further fueling resentments among Uighurs.
In the May 22 market bombing in the Xinjiang capital of Urumqi, men in SUVs plowed through crowds and tossed explosives in an attack that killed 39 people plus four of the attackers — in the region’s deadliest single incident of violence in recent history.
Three earlier attacks also were blamed on Xinjiang extremists, also using rudimentary explosives, vehicles or knives.
An apparent suicide bombing April 30 at an Urumqi train station killed two suspected insurgents and one bystander. In March, 29 people were slashed and stabbed to death at a train station in the southwestern city of Kunming. Last October, three assailants drove an SUV through crowds in front of Beijing’s iconic Tiananmen Gate in October and set their vehicle alight, killing the three attackers and two tourists.
The crackdown has been accompanied by tough language from Chinese leaders.
At a top-level meeting late last month, President Xi called for “copper walls and iron barriers” as well as “nets spread from the earth to the sky” to stop terrorism, while also promising more support for education and employment in Xinjiang.
AP writers Gillian Wong and Ian Mader in Beijing contributed.
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