Two Uighur ex-government officials in China’s Xinjiang have been sentenced to death for carrying out “separatist activities”, a court said, as Beijing becomes increasingly inclined to take action against minority groups in the region.
Shirzat Bawudun, a former head of Xinjiang’s justice department, has been sentenced to death with a two-year delay in the charge of “splitting the country”, according to a statement released on Tuesday on Xinjiang’s government website.
Bawudun had conspired with a terrorist organization, taken bribes and carried out separatist activities, Wang Langtao, vice president of the Xinjiang Higher People’s Court, told a news conference.
Bawudun pleaded guilty to collaborating with the East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM) – listed as a “terrorist” group by the United Nations – after meeting a key member of the group in 2003, according to the state news agency Xinhua.
The United States removed the group from its list of terrorist groups in November last year, saying there was no credible evidence that ETIM continues to exist.
Bawudun also illegally proved “information to foreign forces” and performed “illegal religious activities at his daughter’s wedding,” Xinhua said.
The court ruled that Sattar Sawut – the former head of Xinjiang’s education department – was also sentenced to death with a two-year delay after being found guilty of separatism and receiving bribes.
Sawut was found guilty of inciting ethnic separatism, violence, terrorism and religious extremism in Uighur textbooks, officials said.
The court said that the textbooks had influenced several people to take part in attacks in the capital Urumqi, including riots that resulted in at least 200 deaths in 2009.
Others became “key members of a separatist group” led by former university lecturer Ilham Tohti – a Uighur economist imprisoned for life due to separatist charges in 2014.
Rights groups believe that at least one million Uighurs and other mostly Muslim minorities have been imprisoned in camps across Xinjiang.
The United States says “genocide” has been inflicted on Uighurs and other Muslim minorities in the region, while Beijing has denied all allegations of abuse and insisted that its policies in Xinjiang are necessary to counter violent extremism.
China keeps information about its use of the death penalty secret, although rights group Amnesty International estimates that it is the best executioner globally – with thousands executed and sentenced to death each year.
A death sentence with a delay is usually converted into a life sentence.