Nine ethnic Uighurs have been jailed in western China’s restive Xinjiang region for inciting separatism and disturbing public order, the court and an exiled rights group said Wednesday.
The World Uyghur Congress (WUC) said the nine men were sentenced to between seven and 10 years in prison on various charges, including harbouring “extremist religious thoughts” and holding “underground religious meetings”.
Spokesman Dilxat Raxit denounced the verdicts as political persecution of Xinjiang’s largely Muslim ethnic minority.
“The court verdicts were reached without any fundamental legal procedures and were a result of the political needs of China,” Raxit said in a statement.
“China is using heavy sentences to persecute and completely deprive the rights of legal defence and appeal of the defendants.”
An official at the Kasghar intermediate court in Xinjiang confirmed the May 31 sentencings when contacted by AFP, but refused to provide details.
Xinjiang has been under heavy security since July 2009, when Uighurs launched attacks on Han people – who make up most of China’s population – in the regional capital Urumqi.
The government says nearly 200 people were killed and 1,700 injured in the violence, which shattered the authoritarian Communist Party’s claims of harmony and unity among the country’s dozens of ethnic groups.
Many Uighurs remain angry at the harsh crackdown that followed the violence.
Xinjiang, which borders Pakistan, Afghanistan Kazakhstan, Kyrgysstan and Tajikistan, is home to around nine million Uighurs, but the number of Han living there has increased dramatically over the past decade.
News of the sentencings came as the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation, which groups China, Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgysstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan, meets in Beijing to discuss security in the region.