RFA Uyghur service
HONG KONG — ; Authorities in China's northwestern Muslim region of Xinjiang have sentenced more than 50 people to death this year in what government officials say is a war on terrorism.
“Due to the fact that the activities of international terrorist forces are rampant, we believe our fight against the crime of violent terrorists will continue for a long time to come,” Xinjiang Communist Party leader Wang Lequan told reporters visiting the region.
Prior to the war in Iraq, which it opposed, Beijing backed the U.S.-led war on terror, using its momentum to call for international support for its campaign against Uyghur separatists, whom it has branded terrorists.
China says Uyghurs seeking an independent Islamic state have killed 162 people and injured 440 others.
But human rights groups say Beijing is using the threat of terrorism as an excuse to perpetrate further human rights violations against those involved in a peaceful campaign for an independent Uyghur state, which exiled groups call East Turkestan.
“Over the last three years, Uyghur nationalists who would formerly have been branded as ‘separatists’ have increasingly been labeled ‘terrorists,’” Amnesty International said in a report last month on China’s “War on Terror.”
The government had cracked 22 groups involved in separatist and terrorist activities and meted out the 50 death sentences in the first eight months of the year, Wang said. But none of those sentenced to death had yet been executed, Wang said without explaining.
“Our efforts will exist as long as there are terrorist crimes,” Wang said.
Uyghurs constitute a distinct, Turkic-speaking, Muslim minority in northwestern China and Central Asia. They declared a short-lived East Turkestan Republic in Xinjiang in the late 1940s but have remained under Beijing’s control since 1949.
According to a Chinese Government white paper, in 1998 Xinjiang comprised 8 million Uyghurs, 2.5 million other ethnic minorities, and 6.4 million Han Chinese-up from 300,000 Han in 1949. Most Uyghurs are poor farmers, and at least 25 percent are illiterate.
Meanwhile, People Liberation Army troops staged anti-terrorism maneuvers in the Himalayan region of Tibet, where Chinese authorities are also quick to snuff out calls for independence.
“A day after the third anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on the United States, the Tibet Autonomous Region in southwest China held anti-terrorist maneuvers Sunday morning in its capital of Lhasa,” the official Xinhua news agency reported.
The local garrison of the People’s Liberation Army, armed police, public security police, and militia took part in the joint maneuvers, which lasted about three hours and covered anti- hijacking, anti-explosion, anti-biochemical weapons and seizure of terrorists, it said.
“The anti-terrorist maneuvers, in the context of increased terrorist acts around the world, were staged to check the region’s responsive mechanism in case of terror attacks,” Xinhua said.
On the Web:
Amnesty International's report on Beijing’s anti-terror campaign