China carries out mass sentencing in sport stadium

Defendants convicted of terrorism, separatism and murder in restive Xinjiang region

People shop at a street market in Urumqi where last week 43 people were killed in a bomb attack. Photograph:  Reuters/China Daily

People shop at a street market in Urumqi where last week 43 people were killed in a bomb attack. Photograph: Reuters/China Daily

 

In a powerful display of force, China sentenced 55 people for terrorism, separatism and murder in front of 7,000 people at a sport stadium in the restive northwestern Xinjiang region.

The defendants seemed to be from the region’s Muslim Uighur community and three of them were sentenced to death at the stadium in Yili, in northern Xinjiang, not far from the Kazakhstan border.

The sentencing has angered human rights groups and comes after 43 people were killed last week in an attack on a vegetable market in the provincial capital, Urumqi.

The defendants had already been convicted by a court but were brought into the stadium on the back of flat-bed lorries, in a measure designed to humiliate them and demonstrate state power.

The prisoners, wearing orange uniforms, were held forward by armed police. Formerly such displays were common but nowadays mostly take place in Xinjiang and Tibet, both provinces where separatist feelings run high.

Speaking to a working group in Xinjiang, president Xi Jinping called for “nets spread from the earth to the sky” to defend against acts of terror in Xinjiang, and he stressed long-term stability as the main goal for the region.

Bomb plot

Beijing sees the Uighur separatist movement as part of a plan to destabilise the government, with links to fundamentalist Islamic groups across the borders.

Many Uighurs feel overwhelmed by the influx of settlers from China’s Han ethnic majority and that they have no way to voice their grievances about how they are officially treated.

The central government believes that ideological purity might help. “More efforts are needed to increase ideological influence . . . Socialist core value should be used in the building of the common spiritual home for nations in Xinjiang,” the central government said in a statement carried on the Xinhua news agency.