Chinese authorities in the troubled northwestern region of Xinjiang have ramped up prosecutions against mostly ethnic minority Uyghurs over alleged crimes against state security, a U.S.-based rights group said on Tuesday.
The number of trials brought in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR) on charges of "endangering state security" rose by around 10 percent last year to 296 cases, according to estimates published by the Dui Hua Foundation on its website.
State security offenses can include "splittism," a charge often leveled against peaceful resistance to the ruling Chinese Communist Party's control of ethnic minority areas like Tibet, Xinjiang, and Inner Mongolia.
Dilxat Raxit, spokesman for the exile World Uyghur Congress (WUC) group, said there could be many more state security trials that have not been reported.
"These are only those that got reported," he said. "There are also people who have been held for a long period of time, awaiting trial."
"The authorities are able to prevent relevant information from leaking to the outside world, and there are many more Uyghurs being held under long-term, illegal detention," Raxit said.
"They haven't been through any judicial processes at all."
Meanwhile, Dui Hua said the authorities had conducted many of the trials without providing information about the individuals concerned, and that it had only managed to identify three defendants in state security trials in the whole of last year.
Nurmamat Ibrahim was named as one of 95 people tried in 21 state-security cases by the Ili Intermediate People's Court, while Enwer Obul was among 10 defendants tried for inciting splittism by the Xinjiang Production and Construction Corps 3rd Agricultural Division Intermediate People's Court in March 2013.
And Kerem Mehmet was sentenced for "inciting splittism" to 10 years' imprisonment by the Bayinguoleng Monggol [Bayingolin] Autonomous Prefecture Intermediate People's Court on March 26, 2013, the group's database showed.
But it added: "Information is not available on the evidence against them or the outcomes of their trials."
Allegations against Kerem Mehmet included disseminating information about ethnic separatism, terrorism, and religious extremism through an online discussion group.
He was also found guilty of possessing illegal books and mobile storage devices containing reactionary propaganda, Dui Hua said.
And the Chinese government appears to be obscuring the true number of such trials by changing the way it reports the figures, the group said.
Instead of providing an exact number of state security trials, the regional government's annual work report merely puts the figure at 1.67 percent of first-instance trials, which are reported as being at 84 percent of total criminal cases, the Dui Hua report said.
The calculation must be carried out in two stages to arrive at the total of 196, it added.
Rights groups report that thousands of Uyghurs have disappeared in the aftermath of the July 5, 2009 deadly riots between the mostly Muslim, Turkic-speaking Uyghurs and Han Chinese in the regional capital Urumqi.
The exile World Uyghur Congress (WUC) has documented more than 30 cases of Uyghurs who have been forcibly taken away, and whose location remains unknown.
Guangzhou-based rights lawyer Tang Jingling said he has been following human rights issues in Xinjiang for several years.
"The oppression carried out by the Chinese Communist Party in [Xinjiang] and Tibet is far worse than the political suppression in the rest of China," Tang said.
"The Chinese Communist Party's oppressive policies in Xinjiang and Tibet are harsh and cruel," Tang said.
But he said such a hard-line approach would only yield further backlash.
"China's aim is to maintain stability, but ... the more they maintain it, the less stable things get across the whole of society," he said.
Reported by Yang Fan for RFA's Mandarin Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.