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China: Former Uyghur officials sentenced

April 7, 2021

The former heads of Xinjiang's justice and education departments have been sentenced to death with a reprieve. China continues to reject allegations of rights abuses against the Muslim Uyghur minority.

Workers walking along the perimeter fence of a Chinese reeducation center in Xinjiang
Rights groups say that China has arrested over 1 million people from Uyghur, Kazakh and other minority Muslim groups in XinjiangImage: Thomas Peter/File Photo/REUTERS

Authorities in the northwestern Chinese province of Xinjiang have handed out death sentences to two former government officials from the local Uyghur minority group, the Chinese state-run news agency Xinhua reported.

The two men from the Muslim Turkic minority group were sentenced to death with a two-year reprieve on Tuesday for carrying out "separatist activities" as well as accepting bribes.

Reprieve sentences, like those given to the two convicted men, are often commuted to life imprisonment.

Shirzat Bawudun and Sattar Sawut are just the latest Xinjiang former officials from a minority Muslim group to be sentenced on national security charges.

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China said it has been pursuing a campaign against what it calls "two-faced officials" who are supposedly trying to undermine Chinese rule in the region.

The ruling Communist Party has been accused of human rights abuses amid a large-scale crackdown against minority Muslim groups in the region since deadly terror attacks several years ago.

Ex-justice official accused of terror group collusion

Bawudun, the former head of the Xinjiang department of justice, was sentenced for "splitting the country," a statement on the regional government website said on Tuesday.

The court found him guilty of colluding with the terrorist East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM) after he met with a key member from the group in 2003, Xinhua reported.

He was charged with illegally providing "information to foreign forces" and carrying out "illegal religious activities at his daughter's wedding," according to Xinhua.

The US removed ETIM from its list of terror groups in November saying there was "no credible evidence that ETIM continues to exist."

Official targeted over textbooks

Sawut — the former director of the Xinjiang education department — was found guilty of including ethnic separatism, violence, terrorism and religious extremism content in Uyghur language textbooks.

The court connected the textbooks to attacks in the regional capital Urumqi in 2009, which left at least 200 people dead.

"Sattar Sawut took advantage of compiling and publishing ethnic language textbooks for primary and secondary schools to split the country, starting in 2002. He instructed others to pick several people with separatist thoughts to join the textbook compilation team, the court found," Xinhua reported, citing comments by Wang Langtao, the vice president of the court in Xinjiang that handed down the sentence.

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Ongoing crackdown against Muslim minorities

The Chinese government has denied accusations of "genocide" and abuse of the Uyghur and other Muslim minorities in Xinjiang, saying its actions have been necessary to prevent violent extremism.

China has also attacked accusations of forced labor of Uyghurs in factories and cotton fields as well as sanctions imposed by the US on individual officials connected with persecution carried out in Xinjiang.

Rights groups have said that China detained over 1 million people in prison-like reeducation centers where they are told to denounce Islam and traditional culture, learn Mandarin Chinese and swear loyalty to the Communist Party and President Xi Jinping.

Many Uyghur academics have been arrested on charges of separatism.

ab/rs (AFP, AP)