Chinese anti-terrorism campaign moves swiftly in first month

The unusually fast sentencing of over 300 terror suspects, mainly ethnic Uighurs in Xinjiang Province, raises concern among human rights watchers.

AP Photo/CCTV via AP Video
In this Tuesday, June 16, 2014 image taken from video, defendants stand at a court in the Xinjiang regional capital of Urumqi, China. The court sentenced three people to death Monday for planning a deadly car ramming at Beijing's iconic Tiananmen Gate last year that was blamed on Muslim separatists, state media reported.

In an unprecedented crackdown, Chinese police have arrested 380 terror suspects and jailed 315 since authorities pledged to root out terrorism after a deadly bombing in the restive province of Xinjiang a month ago, according to the local police.

The “strike hard” campaign against suspected Muslim separatists is ringing alarm bells amongst human rights activists. “This sort of campaign tends to emphasize…punishing perpetrators rather than guaranteeing due process,” says Maya Wang, a China analyst with Human Rights Watch.

Authorities announced the year-long anti-terrorism campaign immediately after the May 23 bombing of a marketplace in Urumqi, the capital of Xinjiang, in which 39 people died. Beijing is battling what it says are religiously motivated ethnic Uighur groups seeking independence for the far-western province.

In the latest outbreak of violence, police said Saturday they had killed 13 men who attacked a police station in Xinjiang with explosives. Such incidents have been reported increasingly frequently in recent months, and several attacks in cities across China attributed to Uighur radicals have left more than 30 people dead. 

Last Monday, 13 people were executed for “organizing, leading and participating in terrorist groups,” according to the state run Xinhua news agency. Three more were sentenced to death on the same day by an Urumqi court for an attack on Tiananmen Square in Beijing last October in which six people died.

The unusually speedy execution of justice over the past four weeks in Xinjiang has raised concerns that terrorist suspects may not be accorded even the flimsy protection offered by China’s legal system, which is heavily influenced by the government’s political considerations.

Prosecutors have been given a maximum of 48 hours to prepare terrorism cases, according to a “special campaign working plan” revealed earlier this month by the government owned Xinjiangnet website.

Under those circumstances “the possibility of wrongful convictions tends to be much higher,” says Ms. Wang. Over 99 percent of defendants in Chinese court cases are found guilty, according to official figures.

Since the Urumqi bombing, Xinjiang police have broken up 32 alleged terrorist cells, seized 264 explosive devices, over three tons of explosive material, and 357 illegal knives according to Wang Qianrong, deputy head of the provincial police department.

The 315 people jailed were convicted of “terrorist attacks, religious extremism, manufacturing of guns and explosives, spreading of terrorist propaganda and illegally crossing international borders,” according to the Xinhua report. 

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