Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Xinjiang State Security Trials Flat, Criminal Trials Soar in 2014

Sentences are announced for 55 defendants, including some convicted of splittism, a state security crime, at a public sentencing rally in Xinjiang's Ili Prefecture on May 27, 2014. Image Credit: voachinese.com

Xinjiang’s high court recently reported that, as compared with 2013, the number of endangering state security (ESS) trials in Xinjiang was flat in 2014. A graph included in the court’s annual work report and Dui Hua estimates released last year indicate that about 300 ESS trials of first instance were concluded in Xinjiang in each year. ESS trials can be used as a proxy for the suppression of human rights activism since several of the crimes in the ESS category are constituted by certain kinds of speech and association.

A significant jump in the number of overall criminal trials indicates, however, that even without growth in ESS trials, authorities heightened the suppression of human rights activism and dissent in Xinjiang. The number of criminal trials concluded in the region soared more than 40 percent to 29,511 trials, including those of first and second instance. Kicked off in May 2014, Xi Jinping’s “anti-terrorism” campaign likely played a significant role in increased law enforcement.

Concluded First-instance Criminal Trials in Xinjiang by Crime Category, 2013 & 2014

Sources: Dui Hua; Xinjiang High People’s Court Annual Work Report, 2015

Concluded First-Instance ESS Trials in Xinjiang, 2010-2014

Note: Figures for 2012-2014 are estimates made by Dui Hua; all other data were reported by Xinjiang authorities.
Sources: Dui Hua; Xinjiang High People’s Court Annual Work Report, 2011-2015; Xinjiang Yearbook, 2011-2013

Three categories of crimes accounted for the bulk of the annual increase in criminal trials. Trials for obstructing social administrative order doubled to exceed 4,500. This category of crimes can be used to target unauthorized Islamic and Christian groups or "cults" and covers activities including the distribution of religious materials as well as assemblies and demonstrations.

Trials for infringing upon citizens' personal and democratic rights almost doubled nearly reaching 7,500. This category of crimes includes the offense of "inciting racial hatred and discrimination," which may be applied to people who disseminate information that "tarnishes" China's ethnic harmony by, for example, challenging government bans on beards, veils, and religious observance.

Naming Names

Dui Hua’s Political Prisoner Database includes the names of about a dozen people convicted of ESS crimes in Xinjiang in 2014. Ilham Tohti, a Uyghur scholar sentenced to life in prison for splittism, is the most well known. Seven of his students also went to trial for their involvement in the operation of Uyghur news site uighurbiz.net. All were convicted of splittism, and four were sentenced to 3-8 years' imprisonment. Luo Yuwei (罗玉伟), a member of the Yi ethnic group, received the shortest sentence of three years, according to prominent Chinese lawyer Liu Xiaoyuan. Luo joined Perhat Halmurat and Shohret Tursun in a televised confession, presumably under duress, last November. The other students convicted in the case are Abdukeyum Ablimit, Mutellip Imin, Akbar Imin, and Atikem Rozi, the only woman in the group.

In a lesser-known splittism case, Reyim Abuliz was sentenced to 15 years’ imprisonment in Ili Prefecture. She was involved in one of the 11 cases of Communist Party members and civil servants punished for violating political discipline. The teacher was accused of using China’s mobile instant messaging app WeChat to send “sensitive” pictures and audio materials to a number of individuals.

Last May, state news media reported that five Uyghurs, whose names were not fully revealed, were convicted of splittism and sentenced to 7-15 years' imprisonment in a public sentencing rally in Kashgar Prefecture. They were condemned in front of 300 cadres and students for disseminating information about hijrah and jihad through mobile and online networks and for "indoctrinating" young children in "extremism" in unauthorized religious classes.

Zhao Haitong (赵海通) was the only Han Chinese known to have been convicted of ESS in Xinjiang in 2014. He was convicted of inciting subversion, and possibly other crimes, and sentenced by the Urumqi Intermediate People’s Court to 14 years in prison. Zhao actively participated in a series of small-scale protests against Internet censorship and miscarriages of justice and called for officials to disclose their assets. A Guangzhou-based lawyer has claimed that Zhao’s case was related to Xinjiang’s “ethnic issues.”

Xinjiang typically accounts for the majority of China’s ESS trials, however, official data has yet to be released showing whether the nation’s ESS trial numbers grew in 2014. That said, in 2013 ESS indictments showed strong annual growth with 32 percent more individuals indicted in 57 percent more cases.