China has sentenced 20 people to up to 15 years in jail for advocating violence and separatism in Xinjiang, where religious practices have been restricted in a government clampdown on dissent.
Courts in Aksu, Kashgar and Urumqi heard five cases involving the 20 and found they had used the internet and removable storage devices to organise, lead and participate in terrorist groups, the state-run Xinjiang Daily said on Thursday.
Four of those jailed made illegal explosives, it reported the courts as saying. The report did not cite any bombings or other violence blamed on the defendants, and named only five people, all with Uighur names.
Xinjiang is home to a large population of minority Uighurs, but is ruled by a Chinese Han majority. Repeated violence in recent years has occurred, including riots in Urumqi in 2009 which left nearly 200 people dead.
Dilxat Raxit, a spokesman for the exiled World Uyghur Congress, said the 20 defendants were using the internet to obtain government-controlled information and to express their political views. He said the terrorist charges and verdicts were politically motivated.
Beijing has been clamping down on dissent in Xinjiang, blaming the East Turkistan Muslim Movement for inciting unrest. But critics have pointed to the authorities repressive rule for the tensions, including restrictions on Muslim religion and culture.
A government newsletter article about Xinjiang’s Zonglang village notes party members, officials and students are banned from participating in religious activities such as Ramadan. The article says the town party chief is rallying support from the elderly and retired cadres to promote party policies on ethnic unity.
In Onsu county, the education bureau forbids students and teachers from leaving their towns without permission during the summer break. It also asks school leaders to check with mosques to ensure no student or teacher participate in any religious activity during the summer break, particularly during Ramadan.
In Wushen county, the government has asked community cadres to report any young man who grows a beard or woman who wears a veil.