China has sentenced four ethnic Uyghurs to death in connection with a series of July attacks in the northwestern Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region which left dozens of people dead, state media reported Thursday, drawing condemnation from overseas groups.
Abdugheni Yusup, Ablikim Hasan, Muhtar Hasan, and Memetniyaz Tursun were handed the death sentence while two other men—Abdulla Eli and Pulat Memet—were sentenced to 19 years in prison and a five-year suspension of their political rights for their part in the attacks, according to tianshannet.com, a state-run website.
The mainly Muslim Uyghur minority has long chafed against Chinese rule in Xinjiang, and authorities have accused “terrorists” of operating in the region.
Tianshannet said that the defendants were convicted of “forming and participating in a terrorist organization, the illegal manufacture of explosives, premeditated homicide, arson, and several other related crimes” over an attack on a police station in Hotan and two separate attacks in Kashgar.
The verdicts were handed down Wednesday by intermediate courts in the two Silk Road cities, the report said.
It said the Hotan court convicted Abdugheni Yusup of leading a group of men carrying axes, machetes, and Molotov cocktails in a July 18 attack on the Nawagh Police Station in the city.
During the attack, the report said, the group killed one member of a security team, injured two bystanders, and took two hostages. The group also set fire to the police station and surrounding commercial property, it said.
When confronted by police, the report said, the group killed one armed police officer and injured a SWAT officer and another security team member.
Tianshannet said the Kashgar court convicted Ablikim Hasan of carrying out a July 30 attack on the Kashgar Fragrant Food Street, an alley of Chinese-owned restaurants, along with Urayim Memet, a Uyghur who was later killed by police.
During the attack, the report said, the two men killed a truck driver and rammed his vehicle into a group of bystanders. They then attacked onlookers with knives, it said, leaving a total of eight people dead and 31 injured.
The court also sentenced Muhtar Hasan who, along with four others, Tianshannet said, detonated an explosion in a vehicle and slashed bystanders with knives at another location in Kashgar, killing five people and injuring 13, including three police officers.
Memetniyaz Tursun was sentenced for training the perpetrators of the Kashgar attacks, the report said.
Rebiya Kadeer, president of the Munich-based World Uyghur Congress, strongly denounced the sentencing in statement Wednesday.
“Any country in which the court and press are not free makes it impossible to expect a fair and just verdict.”
She called the court decision, which was handed down barely two months after the events took place, “motivated by hatred and politics,” accusing the government of “trying to comfort some people in Chinese society with Fascist ideas” and “encouraging Chinese migrants” to Xinjiang.
Kadeer said that the Chinese government’s policy of harshly punishing or crushing dissent has been used for decades without success, and that by handing down the sentence, authorities were only increasing tensions in the region.
“[The authorities] talked about how the incident was carried out, but they never talked about why they happened and never investigated the cause of the events, which was ethnic discontent,” she said.
“What should be investigated are the unjust policies and who should have been brought to justice were the people who wrote these policies and carry them out … Instead, they became the judges of the people.”
Kadeer said that the Chinese government should be working to create “peaceful and equal living conditions” among China’s ethnic nationalities.
“This should be achieved not through the power of guns, but through the power of civilization and justice.”
Many of Xinjiang’s estimated 8 million Uyghurs complain of strict controls on their religion and culture that China enforces and resent influxes of Han Chinese migrant workers and businesses.
Uyghurs say they have long suffered ethnic discrimination, oppressive religious controls, and continued poverty and joblessness despite China’s ambitious plans to develop its vast northwestern frontier.
Reported and translated by Shohret Hoshur and Mamatjan Juma for RFA’s Uyghur service. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.