China holds public rally to punish 55 in northwest
BEIJING (AP) — In a stadium filled with 7,000 people, a Chinese court announced guilty verdicts for 55 people on charges of terrorism, separatism and murder as the government tries to display its determination to combat unrest in the troubled northwest region.
The public event was a show of force in Xinjiang after 43 people were killed last week in an attack at a vegetable market in the regional capital, Urumqi.
Such sentencing rallies — designed to humiliate the accused and feed a public thirst for retribution — were formerly common across China, but have in recent years been mostly restricted to Xinjiang and the neighboring restive region of Tibet. That appears to speak to a separate brand of justice carried out against government critics and others accused of crimes who hail from minority ethnic groups, underscored by the announcement last week of a special one-year security crackdown in Xinjiang focusing on suspected terrorists, religious extremist groups, illegal weapons makers and terrorist training camps.
Footage broadcast Thursday on local broadcaster Yili Television showed defendants dressed in orange vests worn by Chinese jail prisoners standing on about a dozen trucks, parked in two rows on the stadium’s grass and running track. Defendants were made to bow their heads by police standing on the trucks as an official read out verdicts, according to the footage carried by the video site of the Sina Internet portal.
Lines of officials sat in the stands with name cards in front of them. Others in the stands included police, armed soldiers and many locals, with some women dressed up for the occasion.
At least one convict received a death sentence at the event Tuesday in Yili, in northern Xinjiang near the Kazakhstan border, according to the official Xinhua News Agency.
The Xinhua report gave few details about the cases, but defendants whose names were reported all appeared to be Uighurs, members of the region’s biggest Muslim ethnic minority group.
On Tuesday, authorities said police in southwestern Xinjiang foiled a bomb plot and arrested five people. The government says more than 200 people have been detained this month in Xinjiang and 23 extremist groups broken up, though it has released no details about them.
The government says unrest among Uighurs is caused by extremist groups with ties to Islamic terror groups abroad, but experts say they see little evidence of that.
Uighur activists say public resentment against Beijing is fueled by an influx of settlers from China’s Han ethnic majority and official discrimination against minorities.
Among Tuesday’s cases, three defendants were convicted of using unspecified “extremely cruel methods” to kill four people, including a 3-year-old girl, in the city of Yining on April 20, 2013, according to Xinhua.
Officials of the Yili branch of the Xinjiang High Court also announced the arrests and detentions of an additional 65 people for offenses including separatism, covering up crimes and rape, Xinhua said.
In last Thursday’s attack, men driving off-road vehicles drove through the crowded market throwing explosives. Police said four suspects were killed at the scene and a fifth was caught Thursday evening in an area about 250 kilometers (150 miles) south of Urumqi.