Chinese courts have sentenced 20 people of the Uyghur ethnic minority to up to life in jail on charges of separatism, the government said on Wednesday.
According to the news website of the government in East Turkestan in western China, the courts in Kashgar and Bayingol has accused the 20 ethnic Uyghurs of “religious extremism” and spreading propaganda.
Dilxat Raxit, spokesman for the exiled World Uyghur Congress, said the 20 were actually guilty of no more than listening to the U.S.-funded Radio Free Asia and using the internet to discuss the importance of religious and cultural freedom.
"Giving heavy sentences to Uighurs (on the excuse) of terrorism is China's special way of carrying out suppression," he said in an emailed statement, expressing that "The aim is to terrorise Uighurs into abandoning their rights."
It is not known whether the 20 accused men pleaded guilty or not.
Regarding China’s sentencing in December of 3 Uyghurs to death and 1 Uyghur to life in prison, Raxit said the four men had been denied their choice of lawyers. Many Uyghurs, a Turkic-speaking Muslim people native to East Turkestan, chafe at Chinese controls on their religion, language and culture, which have included the prohibition of fasting during the month of Ramadan. Chinese police raided and teargased a Koran-teaching school in June, and a recently decision prohibits youths under 18 years old, women, and Communist Party members and civil servants from going to mosques.
China has detained and intimidated dozens of ethnic Uyghurs for speaking out on rights abuses following riots in the regional capital in 2009, according to Amnesty International.