China has handed death sentences to two Uighur ex-government officials in Xinjiang for carrying out "separatist activities", amid growing pressure on Beijing for its actions towards minority groups in the region. Shirzat Bawudun, a former head of the Xinjiang department of justice was sentenced to death with a two-year reprieve on the charge of "splitting the country", according to a statement released on the Xinjiang government website.
The other person, Sattar Sawut, accused of including "extremist" content in children's primary school books that had previously been approved by censors. He had overseen publication of textbooks, all government approved. The death sentences, which were announced earlier this week, have now made critics question the legality of the decision given the lack of evidence against them.
No One's Safe
The sentencing of Sawut and Bawudun once again shows that even Uighurs loyal to the Communist Party cannot escape persecution in Xinjiang. Besides handing them death sentences, authorities in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR) also announced that both Bawudun and Sawut would be permanently deprived of political rights and all their personal property will be confiscated.
The date of the convictions and sentences are still unknown but were revealed in a state media film released in the last week. Interestingly, the High Court announced the verdicts on April 6 but they released no additional information on when and where the trials took place, how they proceeded, and when the verdicts were actually decided.
In the Chinese judicial system, a death sentence with reprieve can be commuted to 25 years, or life in prison, pending good behavior.
However, according to the state news agency Xinhua, Sattar was accused of building a team and planning with his deputy to incorporate "bloody, violent, terrorist and separatist ideas" in primary and secondary school textbooks dating back 13 years. The books in question date back as far as 2003, but in 2016 the content was deemed by Xinjiang authorities to be "separatist" in nature and inciting ethnic hatred.
On the other hand, Bawudun was accused of "long-term planning to split the country," "participating in the East Turkistan Islamic Movement (ETIM) and betraying the interests of the people and the country," and "providing illegal intelligence to people outside the borders [of China]."
ETIM, which was formerly on the US State Department's list of terrorist organizations, was removed late last year because there was "no credible evidence" that the group continued to exist.
World Condemns Sentencing
The sentencing comes amid a deepening crackdown on Uyghur and other ethnic minority Muslims in the Xinjiang region. Rights groups believe more than a million Uighurs and other mostly Muslim minorities have been incarcerated in camps across Xinjiang.
Moreover, there is also evidence of authorities running enforce labor transfer programs, as well as systemic rape and torture, forced sterilization of women, child separation and mass surveillance and intimidation. To make things even worse leading Uighur academics and other public figures are being arrested randomly now.
So much so that the US government and several other law groups have declared the actions of the Chinese government against the group to be a genocide. Beijing, however, has time and again denied all allegations of abuses and has insisted its policies in Xinjiang are necessary to counter violent extremism.