Authorities in China’s restive northwestern Xinjiang region have jailed nine ethnic Uyghurs for “inciting separatism” and “disturbing social order” over their participation in “illegal” religious activities, according to an exile rights group Wednesday.
The sentences of between six and 15 years were handed down May 31 by three county-level courts in Kashgar prefecture, the exile World Uyghur Congress (WUC) said.
It condemned the jailings, calling them an attack on religious freedom of the Uyghurs, who form a distinct, Turkic-speaking minority in Xinjiang and claim to have long suffered ethnic discrimination, oppressive religious controls, and continued poverty and joblessness.
"The court verdicts were reached without any fundamental legal procedures and were a result of the political needs of China," WUC spokesman Dilxat Raxit said.
"China is using heavy sentences to persecute and completely deprive the rights of legal defense and appeal of the defendants,” he said, according to Agence France-Presse.
In the heaviest of the sentences, the Shule County Intermediate People’s Court sentenced Sidik Kurban to 15 years in jail and five years’ deprivation of political rights on charges of “inciting ethnic separatism” following what it said was his involvement in illegal religious activities.
He had overseen the operation of illegal, home-based religious schools throughout Xinjiang over the past decade that provided instruction for 86 students, including young children, the WUC cited a local newspaper as saying.
The same Shule county, Kargilik (Yecheng) county, and Kashgar city courts also sentenced seven others to seven years jail for "disturbing social order," saying they had engaged in underground religious activity.
A ninth person was given 10 years in jail by the Kashgar city court for illegal business activities and was also slapped with a fine.
Xinjiang has been gripped for years by persistent ethnic tensions between the Muslim Uyghurs and the rapidly growing Han Chinese migrant population, leading to riots in the regional capital Urumqi on July 5, 2009 which left 200 dead and 1,700 injured, according to state media.
Reported by Hai Lan for RFA’s Cantonese service. Written in English by Rachel Vandenbrink.