Hong Kong, June 25 (ANI): Chinese government figures show a steep rise in the number of people given lengthy prison sentences in Xinjiang from 2014, when Beijing's crackdown on the region's Muslim-majority Uyghurs ramped up.
Rebecca Wright, Ivan Watson and Ben Westcott, writing in CNN said that alongside the system of detention (vocational training centers), there is a separate programme that involves the lengthy imprisonment of Uyghurs for alleged crimes including terrorism, separatism and inciting ethnic hatred.
Newlyweds Mehray Mezensof and Mirzat Taher were two days from leaving Xinjiang to start a new life in Australia when Chinese police knocked on their door in April 2017, seized Taher's passport and threw him into detention.
During the next four years, Taher was imprisoned in Xinjiang detention centers on three separate occasions for months at a time, Mezensof told CNN from her home in Melbourne, where the married couple had hoped to live together.
Then in April this year, she received a phone call to say her husband had been tried for separatism and sentenced to 25 years in prison.
"How could they be that cruel, like how can they be that heartless? My husband didn't do anything. And he's already been through so much in the last four years," she said.
The US State department and human rights groups have accused the Chinese government of detaining up to two million Uyghurs and Muslim minorities in extra-legal detention camps, which Beijing claims are "vocational training centers" designed to prevent separatism and religious extremism, reported CNN.
The detainee's records don't reveal the crimes committed, or profile the religion or ethnicity of those convicted, reported Rebecca Wright, Ivan Watson and Ben Westcott.
Nathan Ruser, a researcher at the Australian Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI) and author of a report into Xinjiang satellite imagery, said evidence of increased prison infrastructure and Uyghur testimony from the region indicated that systemic persecution through the courts was likely still prevalent.
In 2014, about 21,000 people were sentenced to jail terms in Xinjiang. Four years later, that number had surged to nearly 133,200. In total, more than a quarter of a million people were jailed between 2016 and 2018 alone, in a region with a population of about 25 million, informed CNN reporters.
As more people went to jail, their sentences got longer. According to Xinjiang's statistical yearbooks, 87 per cent of all sentences in 2017 were for more than five years, up from 27 per cent in 2016. Rights groups say that sharp rise in the length of prison terms suggests the Chinese government's crackdown in the region is becoming more extreme.
Xinjiang authorities stopped releasing prison data in 2018, cloaking more recent numbers in secrecy, said Human Rights Watch China researcher Maya Wang. "I think there has been a practice of (Chinese government officials) hiding and manipulating figures, especially in more politicized environments," Wang said. "It's kind of clear what's going on."
In a February report, Human Rights Watch said it analyzed almost 60 formal prosecutions between 2016 and 2018 and found that many prisoners had been convicted "without committing a genuine offense." Most of the Uyghur and Kazakh cases involved "vague" offenses including "inciting ethnic hatred" and "picking quarrels and provoking trouble," the report said.
Information from the Xinjiang Victims Database, a nongovernmental organization that has documented more than 8,000 Uyghur cases, suggests the pattern of high sentencing rates continued until at least 2020, HRW said.
Further, some Uyghurs said their relatives or friends serving lengthy prison sentences in Xinjiang were rushed through a quick trial, without access to an independent lawyer. In many cases, evidence for the convictions was not shared or explained.
Human rights activists have long questioned the legal system in China, where the conviction rate regularly exceeds 99 per cent. Only 656 people were found not guilty in Chinese courts in 2020, out of 1.5 million cases. (ANI)