China Reduces Sentences for 11 Uyghurs

February 3, 2016 5:44 PM

China’s official Xinhua News Agency reports that a court in Xinjiang has reduced the sentences of eleven Uyghurs convicted of terrorism and endangering state security:

Seven of the severe offenders were commuted from life to jail terms ranging from 19.5 years to 20 years, according to a decision from the regional Higher People’s Court announced at a meeting at Xinjiang’s First Prison Monday.

Among these were principal criminals who instigated secessionist activities or participated in violent terrorist attacks in Xinjiang. “They jeopardized China’s national security, disrupted social stability and caused heavy losses of lives and property,” said Mutalifu Wubli, president of Xinjiang’s Higher People’s Court.

The other four prisoners had their jail terms shortened by six months from the initial 8, 13 and 15 years, according to the court’s decision. [Source]

In the past few years, China has suffered a series of violent attacks that authorities have labeled as acts of terrorism and attributed to radical separatists from Xinjiang. The government responded with an anti-terror campaign focused on the region. At the same time, it has imposed a range of restrictions on cultural and religious practices. Ben Blanchard at Reuters reports that authorities are presenting the sentence reductions as evidence of successful de-radicalization:

Xinjiang’s governor, Shohrat Zakir, was quoted by Xinhua as saying the region’s jails had been very successful in recent years at their de-radicalisation efforts, with a majority of convicts becoming law-abiding citizens.

Efforts need to continue in this regard with a focus on those convicted for harming state security, he said.

Xinhua said this had been accomplished by inviting religious leaders and scholars to talk to prisoners about “correct religious belief”. [Source]

A spokesperson for the Uyghur Human Rights Project writes that the Chinese government has a “long record of conflating peaceful dissent with terrorism.”

UHRP believes a vague definition of “terrorism” and restrictions placed on reporting “terror incidents” contained within a new Counter-Terrorism Law legitimizes the use of excessive force against Uyghur civilians expressing peaceful dissent over government policies. Furthermore, the new legislation prevents and punishes commentary, domestic and foreign, critical of the repression and of “counter-terror” measures in the region. The cases of Uyghur academic Ilham Tohti, Xinjiang Daily editor Zhao Xinwei and French reporter Ursula Gautier demonstrate Beijing’s zero tolerance for such questioning. [Source]

At The Associated Press, Gerry Shih reports that one of those who received a reduced sentence is a naturalized Canadian jailed in 2007 for allegedly committing terrorist acts.

Among the 11 prisoners with reduced terms is Huseyin Celil, a preacher from Ontario whose life sentence in 2007 sparked a diplomatic row between China and Canada. After fleeing China and gaining refugee status in 2000, Celil lived in Canada until he was arrested in Uzbekistan and extradited to China.

China refused to recognize his Canadian citizenship and convicted him of organizing on behalf of the East Turkestan Islamic Movement militant group.

[…] The new duration of Huseyin Celil’s sentence has not been announced, said San Francisco-based activist John Kamm, who has pressed for Celil’s release on behalf of the Canadian government since 2009.

But Kamm lauded the decision, telling The Associated Press on Wednesday that commuting Celil’s sentence represented “a step in the right direction” and should prompt other Xinjiang prisons to consider mass clemency. [Source]