Authorities in northwestern China’s restive Xinjiang region have reduced the sentences of 11 ethnic Uyghurs convicted of terrorism and other acts endangering state security, announcing the commutations at a prison rally on Feb. 1, the U.S.-based Dui Hua Foundation said this week.
Among those receiving reductions in their sentences was Canadian national Huseyin Celil, who was handed a life term on April 4, 2007 after being extradited to China from Uzbekistan a year before. The length of Celil’s new sentence has not yet been announced.
Six other prisoners also serving life terms had their sentences commuted, and four others had lesser, fixed-term sentences reduced, with one whose term has now been completed subsequently released.
Celil and two other prisoners named in China’s announcement—Mehmetjan Abduqadir and Muhammed Tohti Metrozi—had previously been included in lists submitted to Chinese authorities by Dui Hua, a San Francisco-based humanitarian organization that engages in dialogue with China over cases of concern.
“This rare act of clemency has come about after years of hard work by the Canadian government, and reflects lobbying by international human rights groups and concerned citizens,” Dui Hua executive director John Kamm said on Feb. 2.
“We welcome this development, and hope that other acts of clemency will follow,” Kamm said.
China has blamed extremists among Xinjiang’s mostly Muslim minority population for a wave of violence in the region that has left hundreds dead since 2012, though experts outside China say that Beijing has exaggerated the separatist threat, blaming the violence instead on China’s domestic policies in Xinjiang.