URUMQI, Xinjiang — 55 people were sentenced on terror charges in response to a series of deadly attacks across China allegedly linked to Xinjiang’s Uyghur population. The trial was held before 7,000 onlookers in a stadium in Ili Kazakh Autonomous Prefecture.
The Higher People’s Court of Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region found the accused guilty of charges including separatism, homicide, and participation in terrorist activities. Three of the accused were sentenced to death for the murder of a family in Yining City on April 20.
This was only one of many recent attacks across the country. In October, a jeep drove into a crowds in Tiananmen Square killing 5 and injuring 40. In March, a train station massacre left 29 dead and 130 injured. A second attack on a train station in the Xinjiang capital Urumqi in April killed 3.
Vice-Secretary of the prefectural Communist Party committee Li Minghui has vowed to take a firm stance against acts of terrorism, saying, “We will achieve the final victory of this war of the people to stop terrorism and maintain stability.”
Human rights organizations expressed alarm at the way government officials chose to handle the rising violence in the area, with Amnesty International calling the proceedings “deplorable.” William Nee, Amnesty’s China researcher, stated, “Those responsible for the recent violent attacks have shown a callous disregard for human life and must be held to account. But speedy show trials will not deliver justice for the victims.”
The organization expressed belief that most of those sentenced were Uyghurs, the Turkic-speaking Muslim minority, and that they had been threatened with torture. Amnesty also stated that Uyghurs face discrimination in employment and education opportunities in favor of the Han majority. Many rights groups claim that these repressive policies are to blame for the extremism they are now fighting.
Though government officials blame recent attacks on outside influence from Jihadi groups, many analysts debate whether such influence is entirely to blame for the violence. They cite instances of harassment toward those who partake in Uyghur customs and Chinese policies that target Uyghur culture.
In response to this and the most recent attack in Urumqi, in which five suicide bombers attacked a vegetable market, leaving 39 dead and 94 injured, Chinese President Xi Jinping for increased efforts to alleviate poverty in the Xinjiang province. He suggested increased funding for education, with a focus on bilingual education. This was backed up by Premier Li Keqiang, China’s top economic official, who stated that bilingual education should help increase employment opportunities for the Uyghur population.
State media reports have also detailed extensive security measures in Beijing, both to prevent acts of terrorism in response to recent attacks, and to deter political demonstrations leading up to the 25th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre on June 4, 1989. Many liberal Chinese have already been questioned or detained. The report also stated that 850,000 civilian volunteers will be patrolling the streets, and that 100,000 individuals will assist in information collection, with the potential to earn $6,500 if they report crucial information. A “social service management system” will also be put in place for citizens to report suspicious activity seen on the streets.