Beijing's sentencing to death of two Uyghurs this week over deadly violence in April in the restive Xinjiang region's Kashgar prefecture is expected to further fuel anger among the ethnic minority Uyghur community towards the Chinese authorities, a rights group said Wednesday.
The World Uyghur Congress (WUC) "strongly condemned" the death sentences as well as sentences ranging from nine years to life in prison imposed Monday on three other Uyghurs for their alleged involvement in the April 23 violence in Siriqbuya (in Chinese, Selibuya) township in Maralbeshi (Bachu) county which left 21 dead.
The sentencings by the Intermediate People's Court in Kashgar Prefecture were marred by a lack of due process and concrete evidence, the WUC said, pointing out that confessions extracted from the five were made under duress.
"[T]hese sentencings will only serve to foment the already seething resentment at the impunity of the way in which the Chinese authorities brutally cracked down upon Uyghurs during the recent months, coupled with the yearly, relentless repression of Ramadan's observance," the WUC said in a statement.
Last week, ahead of the Eid al-Fitr marking the end of Islam's holy month of Ramadan, three Uyghurs were killed and a dozen other civilians, including a four-year-old girl, were wounded when Chinese security forces opened fire to control a crowd angry with prayer restrictions imposed in a village in Xinjiang's Aksu prefecture.
Referring to the two death sentences, the WUC said they "mark the final setback for the Uyghurs' relationship with the governing Chinese authorities amidst some of the worst and most egregious human rights violations to have taken place since July 2009."
On July 5, 2009, clashes in Xinjiang's capital Urumqi between the minority Uyghurs and majority Han Chinese left some 200 people dead and 1,700 injured, according to official media reports.
“These politically-motivated sentences serve merely as a stark reminder from the Chinese authorities that Uyghurs are not equal before the law, nor can they expect any time soon full enjoyment of their rights to freedom of religion, culture, language, expression and opinion under the new Chinese leadership,” WUC President Rebiya Kadeer said.
China's Xinhua news agency and other state media reported on Monday that the alleged leader of an extremist group Musa Hesen was sentenced to death following a one-day trial for murder, forming and leading a terrorist organization, and illegally manufacturing explosives.
Another defendant, Rehman Hupur, also received the death sentence for murder and belonging to a terrorist organization. The sentences imposed on the three others ranged from nine years to life in prison.
Rights groups and experts say Beijing exaggerates the terrorism threat to take the heat off domestic policies that cause unrest or to justify the authorities' use of force against the Uyghur minority.
According to the reports, the defendants did not contest the charges and had lawyers present during their trial.
Another three men accused of belonging to the group were given prison sentences ranging from nine years to life, Xinhua reported.
All of the defendants confessed to their crimes in court, the reports said.
A total of 19 suspects were arrested after the April incident, which saw gunfights break out leaving 15 police and community workers and six Uyghurs dead.
Up to 735 Uyghurs may have been detained since the April unrest, the WUC said, fearing that some of these cases could be "enforced disappearances."
The WUC has also documented that "nearly 140 people have died or been extra-judicially killed due to the heavy handed and violent crackdown by the Chinese authorities."
The Germany-based exile group also blasted the Chinese authorities for opening fire at Uyghurs on the eve of the Eid festival after some of them were prevented from performing their prayers at a local mosque.
“The insensitive, heavy-handed approach of the Chinese security forces during a peaceful, holy observance has now caused three further needless deaths, which is doing anything but affording the desired alleviation of the tensions of recent months,” Kadeer said.
She called on the international community "to ensure that these latest incidents remain firmly at the top of their international human rights agenda."
The shooting incident was triggered by protests by Uyghurs who pelted stones and bricks at police after the authorities prevented residents from one hamlet from going to another to perform the Eid eve prayers in Aksu prefecture's No. 16 village in Aykol town.
“China’s unlawful restrictions on peaceful religious practice are at the heart of yet another conflict in East Turkestan [Xinjiang], coupled with brutal police tactics," the U.S.-based Uyghur American Association (UAA) said.
"What began as a few young men trying to worship freely in the mosque of their choice has turned into a violent and bloody incident in China’s shameful history of repression in East Turkestan,” said UAA General Secretary Omer Kanat in a statement.
“UAA roundly condemns these shootings and the tragic death of three Uyghurs in the incident, as well as those injured including four-year-old Subhinur.”
Uyghurs in Xinjiang say they have long suffered ethnic discrimination, oppressive religious controls, and continued poverty and joblessness, blaming their hardships partly on a massive influx of Han Chinese into the region.
Reported by RFA's Uyghur Service. Written in English by Parameswaran Ponnudurai.