August 2, 2012 10:08 AM EST | AP
BEIJING — China has sentenced 20 people to up to 15 years in jail for advocating violence and separatism in the far western region of Xinjiang, where the central government has clamped down on dissent and restricted religious practices.
The state-run Xinjiang Daily said Thursday that courts in Aksu, Kashgar and Urumqi heard five cases involving the 20 and found they had used the Internet and removable storage devices to organize, lead and participate in terrorist groups.
The courts said four of them made illegal explosives, Xinjiang Daily reported. The report did not cite any bombings or other violence blamed on the defendants. The newspaper only named five people, all with Uighur names.
Xinjiang is home to a large population of minority Uighurs (pronounced WEE'-gurs), but is ruled by China's ethnic majority Hans. Repeated violence in recent years has occurred, including ethnic riots in Urumqi in 2009 which left nearly 200 people dead.
Dilxat Raxit, spokesman for the exiled World Uyghur Congress, said in a statement that the accused were using the Internet to obtain government-controlled information and to express different political views. He said the terrorist charges and verdicts were politically motivated.
Beijing has been clamping down on dissent in Xinjiang. It blames the East Turkistan Muslim Movement for inciting unrest in Xinjiang, but critics have pointed to Beijing's heavy rule for the tensions, including restrictions on their Muslim religion and culture.
A government newsletter article about Xinjiang's Zonglang village notes party members, government 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 asks community cadres to report any young man who grows a beard or woman who wears a veil.